Cover Image: In the Garden of Spite

In the Garden of Spite

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Member Reviews

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

In the Garden of Spite is the second book I’ve read about Belle Gunness in the span of a few months, and I’m excited to see more books about her coming out. I generally found this one a bit of a mixed bag, but I liked it for the most part. 

This book is a bit slow, starting off in Belle and Nellie’s youth prior to their immigration to the US. So, the story does not pick up until about ⅔ of the way through. However, it does add some necessary context to their background, and a contrast as Belle goes down the dark path of serial murder. 

As a result, the pacing is a bit odd, the POV switch between the sisters sometimes feeling rather jarring. I could also understand why this was done, to create a fuller picture of the two of them, but it did result it the story feeling clunky at times. 

I liked receiving insight into what Belle’s mindset might have been as she began to descend to murder. And that last third or so when she was fully invested in her scheme was absolutely thrilling, and this is where I think Nellie’s portion also paid off as she began to come to the realization of who Belle really was. 

This book was an enjoyable, thrilling read, and one I would recommend to fellow historical true crime fans.
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This book will grab you and although the tension builds slowly, you will be unable to put this book down. 

Currently, true crime is big business. Serial killers have fascinated people before there was even a term to describe this type of heinous multiple murderer/murderess. 

Based on a terrifying true story, Camilla Bruce has crafted a superb tale of one woman who set her sites on potential suitors (and others) and methodically slaughtered them. 

With quotes such as the following one, readers cannot help but be hooked by the antics of the "Black Widow of LaPorte." 

"Halfway through the meal, Moira had to excuse herself, as she was feeling ill. I wished her a speedy recovery as she made her way upstairs. Soon after, I cut her throat and let her bleed out in a bucket." 

IN THE GARDEN OF SPITE is not for the faint of heart. This is however the perfect book for anyone who likes a bit of history alongside their true crime fix. 

Belle proves that women can be just as deadly as men. The saying 'the fairer sex' does not apply to Belle Gunness. She had a heart as black as night and took what she wanted. 

I am a fan of the true crime genre, yet until reading this book, I was unaware of the existence of this serial killer. Author Camilla Bruce grew up hearing the story. I am glad that she chose to bring Belle's story to the attention of readers everywhere. 

I enjoyed this book and at a length of 480 pages, readers get their money's worth. This is well worth buying and would be a fabulous selection for your local book club. There is much to discuss and debate.

I rate IN THE GARDEN OF SPITE as 4 OUT OF 5 STARS ⭐⭐⭐⭐ and highly recommend purchasing a copy or two.
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"The world is not kind to those who are different,' I whispered into Rudolph's hair as we rocked gently back and forth on the step. 'But then again,' I continued, 'she may not always be so kind to it either."


Well, well, well a female serial who is not sugar and spice and everything nice. Although she would want you to think that she is! Based on real life serial killer Belle Gunness, a Norwegian-American who killed in Illinois and Indiana between 1884 and 1908 before disappearing.

Belle is known in Chicago; people whisper about her and the many fires of her properties in addition to her two husbands both dying under suspicious circumstances. She always seems to profit from insurance payouts. But is she the angel of death? She presents as a god-fearing woman, who wants nothing more than to raise her children and be an upstanding member of society. She is nice to her neighbors, teaches Sunday school, and visits with her older sister. Everyone needs a hobby. Too bad hers is a deadly one.

Many have suspicions, but she presents as a godly woman. Living alone with her children. Who can fault her for trying to find a husband? But there are always two sides to every coin. Sometimes you must take the bitter with the sweet. Is the face you present to society your true face or is your true face, hidden just slightly under the surface, ready and willing to show itself if the opportunity presents itself?

She places ads for potential husbands, men come, they spend the night, but never stay.... or do they? Determined to make a place for herself in the world after a troublesome childhood and attack, will she come out on top?

I enjoyed this one from the very beginning. I love books based on true events and people. Belle is an interesting character. AS the story progresses, we see her interact with others and commit her crimes, all without remorse and all with survival in mind.

I appreciated how the author showed her sister struggling. We never want to believe the worst in those we love. We often wear rose colored glasses and are quick to make excuses for them. Because what would it mean if you loved a serial killer? What would that say about you? How do you reconcile the sibling you love with the psychopath in front of you?

A great deal of research went into the writing of this book and I loved the details and the portrayal of this real-life serial killer. I found this book to be well written, thought provoking and captivating. I read most of this book in one day as I did not want to put it down. I had never heard of Belle Gunness before and was fascinated by her life and story. She was a scary, violent, and devious woman. I thought the author did a good job blending facts with fiction.

Be sure to read the Author's Note at the end. Also, be sure to read this one if you are a true crime or psychological thriller fan.

Thank you to Berkley Publishing Group and NetGalley who provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All the thoughts and opinions are my own.
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"An audacious novel of feminine rage about one of the most prolific female serial killers in American history - and the men who drove her to it.

They whisper about her in Chicago. Men come to her with their hopes, their dreams - their fortunes. But no one sees them leave. No one sees them at all after they come to call on the Widow of La Porte.

The good people of Indiana may have their suspicions, but if those fools knew what she'd given up, what was taken from her, how she'd suffered, surely they'd understand. Belle Gunness learned a long time ago that a woman has to make her own way in this world. That's all it is. A bloody means to an end. A glorious enterprise meant to raise her from the bleak, colorless drudgery of her childhood to the life she deserves. After all, vermin always survive."

OK, why am I just now learning about Belle Gunness!?! Thankfully this book came along to fill in this gap in my knowledge.
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believe In the Garden of Spite is a stand-alone and it's very different than my usual read. It's more like something I would watch since I'm not big on reading historical fiction, but the promise of a female serial killer grabbed my attention.

Just know there is no real romance involved, sure there's sex but not graphic and between characters who are evil and murderous. Plus the main character cheats on her husband while trying to kill him.

There were a few times I thought about putting the book down and not finishing it because I could not root for the main character, Bella. Her first victim was deserving but after that not so much and her greed and evilness made me rethink her first victim. Sure he nearly beat her to death, but she targeted him like the others. I feel like he was her first attempt at being a cold-hearted murder but he was more than what she bargained for. Gold-digger in the making and murderess gets her fangs wet with the taste of blood. (no she's not paranormal it was a figure of speech)

In the Garden of Spite follows Bella the middle sister of a Norwegian family where she and her older sister immigrated to America. Nellie, the sister has been in America for a few years and has a family of her own and after receiving letters about Bella having troubles back home she is more than happy to help her younger sister save money to move to America.

Once Bella gets to America her relationship with Nellie and the way they lived reminded me of the two sisters in Streetcar Named Desire. Like Blanche, Bella is on the prowl for a man of means and the people living in Nellie's neighborhood are not good enough for her (aka working-class and not rich). Bella finally gets her hooks into a man naive enough to believe she is a good Christian woman who only wants to service her husband and having a house full of babies.

In the Garden of Spite is a fictional telling of a real-life serial killer and I can't say I was on her side after her first victim. She preyed on the men like any male serial killer does on women. The gender flip didn't make Bella anymore redeeming than her male counterparts.
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3.5 stars for this expansive and gut-wrenching story that factionalized real life late 19th century serial killer, Belle Gunness.

I had a hard time rating this book - the giant span of time it covers over Belle’s life and the slow climb to understand what makes a brutal female serial killer spoke of impressive research and writing. However, as a reader, I found it hard to stomach at times. Don’t get me wrong, I’m an avid suspense and thriller reader, but there was so much of Belle’s flippancy to murder and dismemberment (rightly so because of her nature) that I struggled with reading it towards the end. It’s a sad story and sad, hollow ending but bravo to this author for taking a historical mystery and curiosity and breathing fictionalized life, pain, meaning and color to it.
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While I appreciate how well written this book is, the subject matter was simply too dark for me to be able to enjoy. (Which surprised me, because I'm usually a fan of dark and disturbing!)
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I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest and fair review.

This book is a little outside of my normal wheel house but it sounded too interesting to pass up! Belle was a fascinating character and I loved this author's interpretation of her as a person. Her back story was heart-breaking and captivating - what happened to her when she was young defined her in ways that she didn't even understand. Even as terrible as she was, I weirdly found myself empathizing with her after the ordeal she went through. This book was a little darker than ones I usually read though, and she killed a ton of people. Once we got towards the end of the book I was pretty ready for things to wrap up but overall the book was one I really enjoyed. It was great to read about a famous female serial killer from the Midwest and learn more about that piece of history, even if some pieces of the book were fictionalized. It was an interesting read and I'd recommend it!
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The nitty-gritty: A macabre glimpse into the mind of a female serial killer, In the Garden of Spite is a compelling page-turner, rich in historical details and fascinating characters.

Halfway through the meal, Moira had to excuse herself, as she was feeling ill. I wished her a speedy recovery as she made her way upstairs. Soon after, I cut her throat and let her bleed out in a bucket.

Camilla Bruce’s You Let Me In was one of my favorite books of 2020, and there was no way I was going to miss her latest, In the Garden of Spite. This is a very different beast but just as addictive a read. Bruce has proven she’s a versatile writer, going from the speculative, fairy tale genre to a historical thriller about one of America’s most infamous female serial killers, Belle Gunness. This is a slow build, character driven story about how a devastating event had a life-altering impact on a young girl’s future, full of gruesome and shocking details, and I could not tear my eyes away from the page. Belle is a compelling character no matter what she has done, and if you love stories about serial killers, or even if you’re simply fascinated by them, you won’t want to miss this book.

The story is told from alternating perspectives over the course of about thirty years, beginning in 1877 Norway. Brynhild Paulsdatter Storset is a young teen who discovers she’s pregnant, and she’s convinced that once she tells the father, a well-off man named Anders, he’ll agree to marry her. Brynhild’s family are very poor, living on someone else’s land and working hard to scrape by, and Anders isn’t about to marry a girl from such a low station. Even when Brynhild threatens to tell the priest, thinking he’ll do the right thing and force Anders’ hand, he simply laughs in her face. But when Anders seems to take pity on her and invites her to meet him down by the lake, Brynhild is devastated when he viciously beats her and leaves her for dead.

Unable to face her family, Brynhild makes plans to leave Norway and start a new life. Her older sister Nellie lives in Chicago, and Brynhild is convinced that a wonderful life awaits her in America. Once there, she changes her name to Belle and begins her search for a husband who can help her achieve her dreams, but happiness is elusive, especially when she discovers she can never have children. Belle’s search for happiness eventually leads her to a farm in La Porte, Indiana, where she develops a taste for killing off men who have lost their usefulness.

Belle’s chapters alternate with those from Nellie’s perspective, as she happily welcomes her sister to Chicago, but is soon disappointed when Little Brynhild, as Nellie fondly calls her, seems to be more interested in the exciting sights and tastes that the city has to offer, rather than helping her pregnant sister at home. Nellie becomes increasingly distraught over Belle’s bold actions: aggressively looking for the “perfect” husband and later taking lovers on the side, her unorthodox methods of acquiring children, and her refusal to conform to society’s norms of how married women should behave. As the story progresses, and Nellie becomes more and more convinced that Belle is hiding some terrible secrets, the tension becomes nearly unbearable. Nellie’s point of view is critical to the story and gives the reader a much needed break from listening to Belle’s disturbing thoughts.

This is one of those rare cases where I didn’t like the main character at all, but I ended up loving the book anyway. I don’t think you’re supposed to like Belle, since she’s a killer, but even those close to her mention how odd and unlikeable she is, and when people around her start dying or disappearing, it becomes harder and harder to ignore the fact that she might have something to do with those deaths. Despite her abrasive personality, Belle has a sort of charisma that draws people in, especially men, and this allows her to hide her deadly activities because she’s such a good liar. I was horrified by some of the things she was capable of, and yet behind that horror was a certain amount of fascination and appreciation of her methods, and because of the abuse she suffered, you can’t help but sympathize with her on some level. If you look at her life from the perspective of an immigrant, a girl from a very poor family who was able to come to America (that in itself was not easy) and turn her life around, it’s hard not to admire her focus and drive to get what she wants. However, Belle is a killer, and her methods--which include poison, cleavers and hacking dead bodies up in order to bury them--will remind you that there is something terribly wrong with her.

Belle ends up meeting a man named James Lee who becomes a life-long friend and confidant, and together they form a twisted relationship that seems to benefit both of them equally. James is the only person who knows Belle’s secrets, and in fact he helps her with many of her kills. It was shocking just how much they got away with, year after year, and despite my aversion to James and everything he represents, I thought their relationship added a lot to the story.

I loved reading about the immigrant experience, which is something I don’t often find in speculative fiction. Belle’s and Nellie’s lives in Chicago are hard. Starting fresh in America might be a step up from their hardscrabble lives in Norway, but just barely. Nellie works all day as a laundress in order to bring in some money, but she must care for her children while working. She does form bonds with the other Norwegian immigrants in her building, which makes things slightly easier, but she’s exhausted by the end of the day and knows that the next day will only be more of the same. Bruce does a great job of describing the living conditions during the late 1800s. Even in a city like Chicago, most people didn’t have luxuries like indoor plumbing, and it’s during these moments that you can see how elusive the American dream really was

The tension steadily builds up to a horrifying conclusion, one that had been hinted at but still ended up shocking me. The author includes an informative Author’s Note at the end of the story, describing her research and the liberties she took with the factual information about Belle’s life. Camilla Bruce, being a native Norwegian herself, seems uniquely qualified to explore the life of a fellow countrywoman, and her attention to detail and lush, descriptive writing bring Belle’s morbid story to life. In the Garden of Spite was an excellent book to start off my reading year, and I can’t recommend it more highly.

Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.
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Camilla Bruce's In the Garden of Spite was an interesting telling of a prolific female serial killer. I had never heard of the Widow of LaPorte before this book but was intrigued because it reminded me of H. H. Holmes and was of a similar era. I liked Bruce's approach to the subject: how did a dirt poor girl from Norway (the same country Bruce herself is from) end up a serial killer in at the turn of the 20th century? She explores Belle Gunness' roots and the various men and incidences that may have driven Gunness' killing spree. 

While the book was well written and the subject interesting, I felt the book to be generally slow to build and far too long. While I liked Bruce's focus on the woman herself and her history, there was too much background before the actual serial killer moments. This made for a very repetitive feel - something happens, Belle gets angry, Belle gets revenge - as she cycles through two lovers and two husbands. Also, this build was meant to break down and humanize Gunness and her actions. While I appreciated the effort, I felt Gunness to be sociopathic, greedy, and egocentric and her path almost inevitable. She was frequently described as being odd and while her life events certainly added fuel to the fire, she obviously did not process feelings well and often centered herself in all actions (and never learned to center others... even her love of children was wholly selfish). And with the insurance schemes, she frequently tried the same method to get money even after being questioned. The addition of Belle's sister Nellie as a perspective was supposed to add another level of humanness to Belle (is it possible to be both scared of and protective of your relative) which was an interesting take but ultimately fell flat for me. It was obviously that Nellie was scared of Belle and wanted to do the right thing but was held back by her love of the "Little Brynhild" she took care of as a girl. When Belle's antics endangered the lives of her children, Nellie snapped but do anything about it which astounded me. I thought we would get a character finally realizing the absurdity of Belle's situation and report it.

Perhaps the most intriguing part of this story (and most annoying) was the open ending... did Belle Gunness fake her own death? Did she continue her tirade somewhere else or did she finally change her ways for the better? I almost wished Bruce scaled down the first half of Belle's life and focused on the parts of the story we don't know -- what happened to the Widow of LaPorte?

Overall, I was intrigued by this book but it never really took off for me. It was cool to explore the history of this female serial killer but ultimately, the book was too long and too repetitive for me.

Thank you to Berkley Publishing Group and NetGalley for the ARC!
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I had been so looking forward to this book, and sadly I was disappointed. Belle Gunness represents such a specific time period and idea in my mind, and unfortunately this book fell short. It felt like it went far too slow.
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I'm not sure what to call this book so I will settle on fact based historical fiction with a heavy leaning towards true crime. Although events have been changed and some characters invented it is based on the life of a Norwegian-American serial killer who was active in Illinois and Indiana between 1884 and 1908. 

Belle Gunness is thought to have killed at least 14 people and possibly many more. Most of them were men she conned into marriage or the promise of marriage, and others who just got in her way. As the story opens. Belle (who is known as Brynhilde at that time) is an unhappy girl from a poor family who is abused at home and working as a maid. She is in love with a farmer's son and too naïve to understand that his family is considered above her station in life and that he will never marry her. I felt a lot of sympathy for her at first as she is left pregnant and in fear of the shame that will bring if the father of her child refuses to stand by her. When she threatens him it leads to horrific violence and it at this time she changes from naïve child to broken and vengeful woman. I think I still felt for her at this time even while she plotted and manipulated her way to America. Upon her arrival, her true nature starts to take over and it becomes clear that she has very little emotion other than rage. Belle views people only as something to be used to get what she wants. The author creates a very detailed, gripping and chilling account of the inner workings of a murderers mind.
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Whoa. First of all, I didn't even realize this was about a real person until I got to the author's note. Then I fell in love with it even more. This book is violent, gory, and Belle Gunness AKA the Widow of La Porte was one messed up woman. I LOVED this book. I have always been fascinated by serial killers and what drives them to do what they do. The book has a lot of fictional elements and characters but it's based on real events. I couldn't believe some of the things Belle did and she was nonchalant about the whole thing!

If violence and gore isn't your thing you may not want to pick this one up, but it's a fascinating read that had me hooked from page one.
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It always surprises me that there were just not more female serial killers in and among history being written about. Because women are cunning and RUTHLESS! This is the fictional novelization of Belle Gunness, the widow of LaPorte, Indiana and a real serial killer. The body count was somewhere between 12 - 40. She had an actual "murder farm" in Indiana. You can get a pretty clear picture of what happened to make Belle, an immigrant from Norway, behave in such a spiteful and angry manner. And at first, you're kind of on her side. You understand why she's doing the terrible things she's doing. And you're even agreeing with her. But then, it all spirals out of her control. What? Murder and mayhem uncontrolled? But of course! 
This first novel by Camilla Bruce is captivating and extremely well-written. I spent one entire day striving to finish it because I didn't want to miss a moment. And not give anything away, but to this day, no one is actually sure what became of the Widow of LaPorte. 


**Thanks to NetGalley for an early digital galley!!**
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Fascinating fictional account of female American serial killer Belle Gunness. The author did an amazing job of keeping the reader engaged while making a horrible main character sympathetic.
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I found this to be a great introspective into a time and place that I don't often read about. Both of those, the time and place, are extra characters in the book that I was not expecting. Though this story may deal with some very heavy subjects, I felt that it was done really well. I highly recommend this book for someone who wants to escape into another time and place and read about what it's like to be a desperate person in a desperate time.
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Since this is based on a true story, it makes the horror of such a vengeful person actually living even more unsettling. The author does a great job filling in the known facts with believable scenarios that make the story read smoothly. The main character is well written but some, including her sister, are a little weak. The amount of farm work done by the main character is staggering and stretches the imagination. I did appreciate how she ended the novel in a satisfying and appropriate way.

Thanks to NetGalley and Berkley Press for the ARC to read and review.
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Deliciously disturbing. In the Garden of Spite was suspenseful and intriguing after a slow start but quickly started to drag again. I felt bad for the MC initially, eventually hating her easily-in a good way because I think that was the point. At times, it was hard to keep the characters straight. The writing was rather good with strong chapter transitions. Overall, a woŕthwhile read that may induce a few shivers. 

Thank you to NetGalley for granting me a copy. My review was not affected by receiving a free copy.
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I received an ARC of this novel from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review..

Raw and gritty novel based on the life of Belle Gunness.  Although much of the novel is conjecture, it was an interesting read.   .
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WHAT THE HECK DID I JUST READ?!?!?!?! My daughter just asked if I'm okay and the answer is <b> NO! I'm definitely NOT okay!!!</b>

<i>"They never expected me to hold a grudge."</i> <b> Those words will haunt me for quite some time now.</b>

I admit I've been fascinated by fictionalized stories of serial killers. Usually, they don't haunt me in my dreams and keep me up at night. But this... this... THIS has scarred my brain, I think. And (unfortunately) also caused me to want to learn more about the serial murderess Belle Gunness.

I literally lost count of how many bodies had dropped by the time I made it to the mid-point of this novel, but that's not what kept me reading. It was the way Belle was portrayed as yes, a killer, but also a victim whose compulsion to kill was deeply embedded as a way to protect herself and her children. I hated that I kept finding myself feeling just a teensy bit sad for her. And then she'd do something completely horrid and turn my stomach and I'd have to set my Kindle down and hold my babies super tight because.. UGH! This was horrible!!!

Do I recommend this to fans of historical fiction who enjoy a good serial killer story? ABSOLUTELY!!! But make sure you're in a good head space before you pick this one up, because it WILL keep you up at night and send shivers down your spine!

Thank you to NetGalley and Berkley Publishing Group for providing me with an e-galley of this book in exchange for my honest review.
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