In the Garden of Spite by Camilla Bruce

Hello Readers! How is your reading year going so far? Have you already picked up a favorite book of the year? I don’t know that I’ve found a favorite of the year so far, but I have read a few books that I’ve really enjoyed already. One of those books is the title I’m reviewing today. It’s the second book from Norwegian author Camilla Bruce. I haven’t read her first title, but I’m definitely more likely to pick it up after finishing this one. In the Garden of Spite is out now and it is a dark story of revenge and blood lust. It won’t be for everyone, but if you like dark true crime, I think this will appeal to you.

Title: In The Garden of Spite

Author: Camilla Bruce

Author website: https://camillabruce.com/about/

Publisher: Berkley

Publish date: 01/19/2021

ISBN: 9780593102565

Buy the Book: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Bookshop.org

Summary:

The story follows Belle Gunness, a woman who goes by several names before all is said and done. We follow Belle/Bella/Brynhild from her early days in Norway. Belle leads a tough life as a clever girl in a time and place where clever girls are not considered valuable. In an effort to better her life circumstances she makes some questionable decisions and some dangerous enemies. Her plans go horribly wrong and she is savagely beaten as a result. This story is not for the feint of heart.

In an effort to escape her past in Norway, Belle writes to her sister Nellie, who has emigrated to the United States to ask for help. Nellie and her husband set aside a little money and send it to Belle who combines it with her own savings in order to afford passage to America. The whole thing takes time though, and Belle is living in a village filled with people who are unkind, and at least one person who tried to kill her. Belle goes through her life there, working hard, but never forgetting what was done to her. She will eventually get revenge on the man who attacked her, and the crux of her character for the rest of the book is born in that moment.

There are times, especially after Belle arrives in America and begins the process of rebuilding her life, that the reader can sympathize with her and root for her success in starting over…but this isn’t that type of story. The roots of her rage run so deep, that even when things start to look up she finds herself losing control of each situation in a manner that she can’t accept.


This is a story of blood lust and of the rage of one clever woman. The story is told from Belle’s perspective, but also from the perspective of her sister Nellie. Initially, Nellie thinks the best of her sister and just wants to protect her, but she slowly comes to realize exactly what kind of person her sister is and just how unforgivable her crimes are. I really appreciated Nellie’s perspective on things, because I think the reader could easily get sucked in to Belle’s logic for all of the decisions that she makes and could almost start to ignore the depravity of what she is doing.

Belle Gunness was a real person and she really committed the atrocious crimes that are detailed in this story, for the most part. The author reveals in her Author’s Note at the end that many parts of Belle’s life are unknown, including the motivation that led to her actions and how her life ended. Bruce explains the creative decisions that she made when she went to tell Gunness’ story, and I think the care with which she made those decisions shows clearly in the writing. Nellie’s character reminds us again and again that Belle was once a mistreated child, and later in the book, when things get really dark, Nellie reminds us that Belle has suffered an unimaginably horrific attack that is bound to have changed her psyche.

This is a very dark book, but it was an engaging story.

Why I liked it:

This novel presents feminine rage in a clear and concise manner. As the reader, you won’t be tempted to forgive Belle’s actions, but you will understand what led her to that moment. She’s not a sympathetic character, but so much of her life is a reaction to the incident from her early years in Norway that I did not forget her humanity despite all of the gore.

What I would like to change:

There was a point, particularly after we arrived in La Porte, Indiana, where the plot began to feel very repetitive and where Belle’s character stopped achieving any sort of growth. I know that it served the purpose of illustrating just how unchecked her crimes were at that time, but it did get a little tedious from the reading perspective.

Disclaimer: I received an e-galley of this title from the publisher via NetGalley with the expectation of an honest review.

My library rating: This is a dark book…like really dark. It has violence, gore, sexual assault, the death of children, domestic violence. That’s a lot of trigger warnings and many people would not be comfortable reading about those situations. I would probably be comfortable recommending this one to readers who like dark true crime and horror.

1 glass of lemonade= a book that can only be recommended to someone whose reading taste you know well, like a best friend.  There may be a fair amount of curse words, spicy sex scenes, or potentially morally repugnant behavior.  This does not mean that the book is bad, just that the audience might be a little more limited.

My personal preference rating: I gave this title 4 stars. I don’t mind the darkness and the gore and I really loved that this was based on a true story. The author’s note at the end added information about the real Belle Gunness, which I appreciated.

Haze by Rebecca Crunden

Hello Kittens! For the first time in the short life of this blog, I’m recommending an independently published title for you. It’s promoted as a paranormal mystery romance, so it hits several genres in one go. It’s pretty short but it packs a lot of story into those pages. It’s different from most of what I’ve read lately and I really liked that about it. For some reason I’ve been on a YA fantasy kick and while I love those books, I just needed something different. This was the kind of story that made me wonder why I don’t seek out more Indie author titles. There are so many great stories out there that don’t go through “traditional” publishing channels. Give it a try if you’re looking for something different!

Title: HazeHaze

Author: Rebecca Crunden

Author website: https://rebeccacrunden.com/

Publisher: Independently Published

Publish date: August 6, 2018

ISBN: 9781985364288

Buy the Book: Amazon

Summary

This book opens with 2 young boys named Erik and Miles attempting a magical ritual in Latin so that Erik can try to talk to his recently deceased mother. They are both disappointed, but not necessarily surprised, when it doesn’t work. Little do these boys know, this seemingly innocent act will change their adult lives forever.

When we flash forward in time to nine years later we learn that Erik has fallen in love with a girl named Eliza and they are planning to get married. Shortly after they make these plans, Eliza gets a strange phone call from a girl named Paige who claims to be Erik’s ex-girlfriend and says she has something important to tell Eliza in person. The only problem? Erik tells Eliza that Paige committed suicide years ago. So who is calling and what message are they trying to give Eliza?

This story is a pretty wild ride from there. It’s a relatively short novel that I finished in a day, but the pacing is fast. We make a couple of leaps in time that help with that, first going 9 years into the future, then 5 years later, and so on. You get a good picture of Erik, Eliza, and Miles’ lives at each stage. The characters aren’t always likeable (except for Miles, who is excellent comedic relief throughout), but their stories are complex and they have emotional depth.

Why I liked it:

The story kept me guessing and for a lot of the book I wasn’t sure how heavily the paranormal was going to influence the outcome. I really like a story that keeps me on my toes. Also, I really loved Eliza and Erik’s romance. It was sweet and felt very real and I felt invested in what happened to them.

I also loved that the paranormal was introduced without a ton of backdrop world building. There’s a time and a place for that, but this story didn’t need it. When paranormal elements were introduced, I just accepted them and moved on. I liked that I didn’t have to get some intense history lesson of magic to understand what was going on.

What I would like to change:

Several people on Goodreads listed this story as a mystery. I’m going to have to agree to disagree with them on this. As a mystery, it isn’t as strong, but if you think of it as a romance with paranormal elements: we’ve got a winner.

When I thought it was a mystery I was expecting the traditional elements of mystery, but once I changed my thinking to view this as a romance, it was fantastic. It had everything that I was looking for in a romance. The characters had difficult backstories and impediments to their love, but their feelings for each other remained strong throughout. The characters were flawed but a good match for each other.

There needs to be a follow up that is just Miles. Seriously. That character is gold.

Disclaimer: I received an electronic copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

My library rating: From a library perspective, I would say you would need to know your audience for this one before recommending it. The book includes past self-harm, a fair amount of cursing, and frequent drug use. Any of those things alone might have made this a 2 glasses of lemonade book, but because it’s got so many potentially tricky elements, I had to put it at:

1 glass of lemonade= a book that can only be recommended to someone whose reading taste you know well, like a best friend.  There may be a fair amount of curse words, spicy sex scenes, or potentially morally repugnant behavior.  This does not mean that the book is bad, just that the audience might be a little more limited.

My personal preference rating: I gave this title 3.5 stars (I round down on Goodreads). It took me about 30% of the book to get really invested in the characters, but I really liked the ending and I liked the book overall.

Get A Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert

Hello Kittens! Are you in the part of the country getting a weird cold snap right now? Me too! But no worries, because this next book out to warm you right up. Definitely steamy! I’ve been making a concerted effort to add more fiction featuring diverse characters and by diverse authors into my book diet and this book checks off both of those boxes. This book came out back in November, but the next title in the series is coming out in June (assuming no publishing delays), so it’s a great time to pick this one up. The writing is modern and funny and you’ll be rooting for these characters all the way.

Title: Get a Life, Chloe BrownGet a Life, Chloe Brown (The Brown Sisters, #1)

Author: Talia Hibbert

Author website: https://www.taliahibbert.com/

Publisher: Avon

Publish date: November 5th, 2019

ISBN: 9781643854786

Buy the Book: Amazon, Barnes and Noble

Summary

After a near-death experience, Chloe Brown begins rethinking her life’s accomplishments, or lack thereof. She decides that maybe her family has the right idea in encouraging her to, “get a life”. So what’s a girl in this situation to do? Create a get-a-life list, of course! Chloe’s list includes enjoying a drunken night out, riding a motorcycle, going camping, and having, “meaningless but thoroughly enjoyable sex”, among other things. You know, the average. But first, she needs to move out of her family’s house and get her own place.

That part actually turns out to be pretty easy, but once she moves to her new apartment complex, she runs into the prickly building manager, Redford. Chloe finds his presence thoroughly unpleasant and doesn’t understand why no one else in her life can see how utterly annoying he is.

For his part “Red” isn’t exactly enamored with the new diva living in the complex either. She treats him as decidedly less-than in all of their interactions, and every time he turns around he seems to be running into her. And what’s more, he’s pretty sure he caught her spying on him while he was painting in his apartment. As Red’s annoyance builds, so does his attraction to Chloe. Maybe she’s not as bad as he first thought, but she’s definitely peculiar and he doesn’t need that kind of energy in his life. Red’s just beginning to put his life together after a really bad break-up and he does not need a complicated woman like Chloe in his life…but he can’t seem to stay away.

Chloe was definitely watching him paint. After all, what kind of guy paints in his apartment shirtless with the blinds open. Plus, this fulfills the “do something bad” portion of her get-a-life list. Red is a harmless distraction, but not a friend and definitely not boyfriend material. Chloe tried the boyfriend thing before and it went horribly wrong. Chloe has enough to deal with in her life without adding a complication like Redford. Red however, is persistent in changing her opinion of him…and he might just be worth re-writing her list for.

Why I liked the book:

I really like how the author handled the interracial relationship aspect of the story. I also appreciated reading a story where the main character is suffering from chronic illness. The story emphasizes how Chloe’s fibromyalgia impacts her life from pre-diagnosis to now. Hibbert spends a decent amount of time talking about how a diagnosis of a chronic illness that is difficult to manage even with medication can take a toll on the sufferer’s personal relationships. Despite all of the hardship, Chloe is still a lovable character with a strong will. I think readers are going to love her and her sisters.

Red comes across as an imperfect, but still really good guy. He is the kind of guy that most girls would drool over, but he’s got baggage from a prior relationship and he’s drifting in his life right now. Above all, I appreciate that as a character, he didn’t struggle with the caregiver nature of the situation. He presents as understanding of Chloe’s limits without pushing her unnecessarily. Both characters have something to learn about themselves and each other.

What I would like to see changed:

Chloe’s sisters come across a little shallow, even though they are also very compassionate about her life. I’m looking forward to seeing Hibbert explore deeper parts of their characters in the rest of the series.

Also, can we just get a book about their grandmother? Because she sounds like someone readers would enjoy getting to know.

Disclaimer: No disclaimer needed. I chose this title for my Book of the Month selection back in November and finally got around to reading it.

My library rating: There are a few pretty spicy sex scenes in this one. It’s a romance after all! But between those, a some indiscriminate curse words sprinkled throughout the book, I’d have to be cautious about recommending this one at work. I would maybe give it a shot for people who tell me they enjoyed The Kiss Quotient or The Rosie Project. Interestingly enough for my rating system, one of my best friends recommended this title to me.

1 glass of lemonade. A book that can only be recommended to someone whose reading taste you know well, like a best friend. There may be a fair amount of curse words, spicy sex scenes, or potentially morally repugnant behavior. This does not mean that the book is bad, just that the audience might be a little more limited.

My personal preference rating: I gave this title 4 stars. It’s sweet and sexy and features diverse characters, so what’s not to love?

Reading Group Guide and Read-a-Like suggestions.

The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams

Update 5/14/20: The Bromance Book Club has been optioned by Netflix, according to the author: https://twitter.com/lyssakayadams/status/1255857707405529088

Hello Kittens! Quarantine is weird y’all. The one positive is that I am catching up on some long overdue reading. I was granted access to our next book several months back on NetGalley and it ended up languishing on my E-reader for the next few months. In fact, by the time I got around to it, the second book in this series had already come out, but better late than never. This book combined something that I love: baseball, with something that I don’t read a lot of: romance. While the book is light on the baseball and heavy on the romance, it was still a refreshing change in my reading game, and I’ll be picking up the next book in the series whenever my library re-opens. It’s a strange sensation for a librarian to be without a library for so long.

Title: The Bromance Book ClubThe Bromance Book Club (Bromance Book Club, #1)

Author: Lyssa Kay Adams

Author website: http://www.lyssakayadams.com/

Publisher: Berkley

Publish date: November 5, 2019

ISBN: 9781984806092

Buy the Book: Amazon, Barnes and Noble

Gavin Scott has screwed up his marriage. He’s not sure how, but he has, and now his wife wants him out of the house. We meet him as he overindulges in drink at the hotel where he now resides. A group of his professional baseball teammates and few as yet unknown-to-him extras tag along and offer him a chance to get his wife, Thea, back. He doesn’t believe that is really possible at that point, but he’s willing to try anything. He truly loves Thea and he doesn’t want to lose his two beautiful twin daughters either. His friends let him in on a secret club that’s been operating right under his nose: a book club for men that exclusively reads romance novels. These guys have discovered the shocking truth of romance novels: that they are written for women and contain nuggets of wisdom that might be useful to men in terms of understanding what women want. At first Gavin is hostile and skeptical of the idea, but he wants Thea back, and he’s willing to give it a try.

Thea has put up with a lot since marrying Gavin. Being a professional baseball players wife comes with significant social expectations, and Thea really doesn’t fit it. Fed up with the way that the other wives and girlfriends have treated her and frustrated with Gavin’s absences, both physically and emotionally, she has drawn her line in the sand. Thea is ready to move on from that life and embrace the dreams that she put on hold when she met Gavin. With the support of her sister, Thea agrees to an ultimatum with Gavin that will get him out of her life for good.

This story was both humorous and extremely sexy. There’s a lot of description of what goes on in the bedroom, especially since that is a central conflict in the story. There’s also a story within the story, which is the romance novel that Gavin is reading while trying to remedy the situation with Thea. In addition to the romance storyline, we also get to know Thea as she embraces her new life and comes to terms with the past that made her so hesitant to live out a fairytale. Of the two main characters, I definitely preferred reading about what was going on with her embracing her own power as opposed to Gavin getting over his ego to understand that he neglected her. It’s always nice to see a romance novel tackle the bigger issues in relationships, and complacency in marriage, while not unique, is certainly important.

I loved the concept of men treating romance novels as though they were textbooks. To a certain extent, it’s a realistic option for men who are trying to figure out how to communicate with women. I like that Adams is addressing the problems that arise when women think relationships are going to turn out like romance novels and then are disappointed in reality. By the time I got around to reading this galley, the second book in the series had just released, and according to Amazon, there’s going to be a third addition to the series releasing in October. Adams definitely isn’t wasting any time, and it looks like the second book in the series extrapolates a romance that was hinted at in the first book.

All in all, I think romance readers are going to enjoy this addition to the canon. The book got great reviews when it came out and has topped several recommended romance reading lists since then.

Disclaimer: I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

My rating:

1 glass of lemonade= a book that can only be recommended to someone whose reading taste you know well, like a best friend.  There may be a fair amount of curse words, spicy sex scenes, or potentially morally repugnant behavior.  This does not mean that the book is bad, just that the audience might be a little more limited.

It was a good read, but there are sex scenes every few chapters, so you need to really know what someone is looking for in a book before you recommend this one. Also be aware that there is a little bit of emotional abuse from one of the character’s childhoods.

Qualityland by Marc-Uwe Kling

Greetings Kittens! I wanted to challenge myself this year after falling short of my reading goals in 2019. I wanted to try to read from genres that I often overlook, while also giving myself permission to do a little more guilty-pleasure reading from my favorite genre: mystery. While Qualityland is not the first book that I read this year, it is the first book that meets challenge #1: read from overlooked genres. The entire book is a satire, and while it is written by a German author, it is very clearly satirizing American culture and politics. I would have been more offended, but the book is clever and funny and hits pretty close to the truth. It’s not going to be everyone’s favorite read, but I can see this gaining some cult classic status pretty quick, especially since HBO has reportedly picked up the rights for an adaptation. Welcome to Qualityland, my dear readers.

Title: QualitylandQualityland

Author: Marc-Uwe Kling

Author website: https://marcuwekling.de/en/

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Publish date: January 7, 2020 (originally published in Germany in 2017)

ISBN: 9781538732960

Buy the Book: Amazon, Barnes and Noble

The tagline for the cover of Qualityland is: “The Biggest Company. The Perfect Algorithm. What could possibly go wrong?” I think most readers can guess the answer to that question, but nonetheless, let’s meet our cast of characters. The story is mostly the narrative of a man named Peter Jobless (in this new world order, your surname is chosen based on the career of your gender equivalent parent at the time of your conception). Peter Jobless runs a machine crushing business that is mostly unsuccessful. In Qualityland, their machines are the best!

In this dystopian future, people do not need to go online and click through purchase decisions on their computers, instead they have devices embedded into their brains through their ear canals (appropriately called earworms) that communicate directly with the various technological aspects of their society and e-commerce. The user doesn’t need to physically order an item from TheShop (the largest internet retailer), because once the user thinks about wanting the item, provided there is enough currency in their account, the item is delivered by flying drone almost instantly to their door. All of this is an accepted part of Peter’s daily routine, up until the day that he receives an item from TheShop that he didn’t think about and doesn’t want. His efforts to return this item with the help of his sort-of girlfriend Kiki, a wise but paranoid old man, and his band of machines-that-he-was-supposed-to-destroy-but-didn’t drive the novel forward with farcical consequences.

There are so many clever allusions in this plot that it’s tough to pick just a few plot points to share here. First of all, Peter has a personal assistant robot that he has named Nobody, so he frequently has an inner monologue going that revolves around Nobody doing things. As a reader, it can be a little confusing to follow at first, but once you catch on, the humor of that situation is endless. This book came out shortly after the 2016 elections here in America, and one of the plots in the story is a new presidential election. The two candidates are a logical and earnest android named John of Us and a bombastic and nonsensical human named Conrad Cook. Cook frequently contradicts himself and shouts out that every idea he disagrees with is a “lie”. Read into that what you will…

Obviously, this book is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. It is a satire, taking the worst aspects of capitalism and American politics and culture to their extremes. It is also a little scary to think how close to some of the scenarios presented in the book we have already come. This is Kling’s first novel. He has an international following already, but I believe this title will certainly earn him some American fans. The biggest turn offs for readers are going to be the political scenes that are only thinly veiled references to existing figures as well as the sexual scenes that always lack appeal for certain audiences. From a Librarian’s perspective, this title is well-written, but as a Southern Librarian, this one might be a tough sell for the majority of my patrons (which will not stop me from strategically placing it in displays for the next few months).

Disclaimer: No disclaimer on this one. I heard about it on the All the Books Podcast and requested it from my local library.

My rating:

1 glass of lemonade= a book that can only be recommended to someone whose reading taste you know well, like a best friend.  There may be a fair amount of curse words, spicy sex scenes, or potentially morally repugnant behavior.  This does not mean that the book is bad, just that the audience might be a little more limited.

Sadly, despite the fact that I loved this book and rated it highly on Goodreads, the frequent references to masturbation and the political satire are going to make me hesitant to recommend it to random patrons. I am definitely intrigued to see how far HBO is going to do with their adaptation.