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:

Publisher: Berkley

Publish date: 01/19/2021

ISBN: 9780593102565

Buy the Book: Amazon, Barnes and Noble,


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.

The Myth of Perpetual Summer by Susan Crandall

Hello Kittens! I have got a treat of a book for you today. I can’t even hide my Southern bias here, but this is a book that is going to make you want to sip sweet tea on a porch swing on a hot day. Susan Crandall is a well-established author (you may remember her for Whistling Past the Graveyard) and she has definitely upped her game for this book, which will be coming out in a couple of days on the 19th.

Title: The Myth of Perpetual Summer

Author: Susan Crandall

Author website:

Publisher: Gallery Books

Publish date: 06/19/18

ISBN: 9781501172014

Buy the Book: Amazon, Barnes and Noble

I read Susan Crandall’s Whistling Past the Graveyard in a book club that I was leading a few years back, and it was pretty much universally loved. While Crandall stays firmly in Southern territory, this novel was a step above Whistling in terms of the subject matter and the depth of the characters.

The Myth of Perpetual Summer is the story of Tallulah Mae James and her family, set in Mississippi in the late 1950s. Tallulah is a young child growing up in the shadow of the James family legacy, a Southern family with seemingly deep roots in their town of Lamoyne, MS. But while appearances matter immensely to Tallulah’s Gran, Tallulah herself tries to be a little more practical about her family’s problems. She and her three siblings, an older brother and two younger fraternal twins, are constantly dealing with their volatile parents and the pressures of living in a small Southern town. These pressures come to a head the Fall of 1963 when her brother is arrested for murder.

We are introduced to Tallulah initially several years in the future in 1972 when she is preparing to return to Lamoyne because her other brother is being charged with murder. We learn that she has built a new life for herself and that she is living in California because of an event from her past that forced her to flee. We spend the rest of the story hopping back and forth in time, piecing the rest of the story together.

Tallulah is a strong character and seeing her development and growth in the face of unimaginable circumstances is inspiring. There are several moments in this story that will make you question whether she can truly count on anyone other than herself. This story destroyed me and then built me back up again. It’s the type of Southern family story that rings so true, you’ll want to pass this book along to your family with the comment, “Remind you of anyone?”

The writing is authentic and clear. I would have loved to get more backstory on what happened with Walden, and the epilogue came way too soon for my taste, but this story was an exquisite read. I highly recommend this one to anyone looking for their next good read.

Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Reader copy of this book from the publisher/BookishFirst in exchange for an honest review.

My rating:

lemonade_iconlemonade_iconlemonade_iconlemonade_iconlemonade_icon5 glasses of lemonade= you could recommend this book to anyone.  There is nothing in here that is going to upset anyone and you could start handing it out on street corners.  (This kind of book is a Librarian’s dream.  As much as we love good literature, suggesting a book for someone can be nerve-wracking work that can backfire BIG TIME.)

I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon

Book Stats:
I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon
Published: March 27th, 2018
Publisher: Doubleday
ISBN: 9780385541695
Buy it:  Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Book Cover Image of Ariel Lawhon's historical fiction novel titled I Was Anastasia. The image features a woman whose face is obscured by a hat in clothing from another decade perched delicately on top of a suitcase.

I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon is the story of two women and a shared life. Anastasia Romanov’s life story and tragic end have been well documented, including all of the speculation about whether she was murdered with the rest of her family following the Bolshevik Revolution. Anna Anderson’s life story has also been well-documented, and this story might be a little bit of a letdown in terms of suspension of disbelief if you are familiar with the facts of both women’s lives. My knowledge was limited in this case, which made this historical novel extremely enjoyable.

You meet the narrator on the very first page, and she issues a warning to any reader that they may not like what lies ahead. On the whole, she comes off sounding like an old woman who has told this story many times, so settle in and do not interrupt. From there, the story is told from Anastasia Romanov’s early teens until the night her family is murdered, alternating chapters with Anna Anderson’s life as it regresses to the moment she becomes Anna Anderson.

This is historical fiction in the truest sense. Lawhon adds just enough romance to provide depth without watering down a fascinating life. Moments in the story will make your heart race and other times will shatter it as you feel the frustrations and terror of a family held captive and a young woman whose life seems to do nothing but unravel. If you’re looking for a happy ending, this title is not the one for you. If you love an intricately told story that features a couple of extremely spunky women then I Was Anastasia is a jackpot. It’s only been out for about a month at this point, but this novel has been mentioned on multiple review sites and blogs. In my opinion, if it’s not already on your TBR list, it should be.

lemonade_iconlemonade_iconlemonade_iconlemonade_icon4 glasses of lemonade= a book you could recommend to a book group or anybody who reads.  You might find controversial subject matter, but it is handled delicately.

************Spoilers below****************

This book would have been a 5 glasses of lemonade, recommend to anyone, rating except for two things:

  1. There are about a dozen curse words sprinkled throughout.  While cursing does not bother me, I know some people would rather not have it as part of their reading experience.
  2. There is a scene involving multiple rapes.  While it is not incredibly graphic, it’s there.