(Actual rating: 3.5 stars)
There’s something about a good ghost story that’s impossible to resist. We’ve all listened to a friend spin a spooky tale as we sat entranced with goosebumps on our arms and pleasant shivers down our spine. We’ve all recited the rhyme about Lizzie Borden and her axe, or chanted the “Bloody Mary” mantra in a darkened room, waiting with bated breath for her spirit to come shrieking through the bathroom mirror. For better or worse, there’s something alluring about mysterious, tragic stories that makes you want to know more.
In Kimberly G. Giarratano’s fictional town of Ash, the ghost story of choice is that of the Lady in Blue, a teenage girl who died on her prom night, supposedly murdered by her lover. Little do the town’s residents know that the Lady in Blue is more than a legend – her ghost really does haunt the town, and will continue to do so until she either brings her killer to justice…or fades into oblivion.
Criminology student Liz Bloom is one of the only people in town who can see the Lady’s ghost, and she’s determined to help the Lady track down her murderer so that she can finally find peace and move on. With Liz’s assistance, the Lady slowly begins to piece together the events leading up to her death.
Back in the 1950s, before her murder, the Lady in Blue’s name was Lana Bloom, and she was the darling of Ash. Gorgeous, popular, and beloved by all, Lana led a charmed life – or so it seemed. In reality, the pressure to be perfect – the obedient daughter, the doting girlfriend, the beautiful prom queen – left no room for Lana to be herself. Every time she tried to voice an opinion or forge her own path, someone stepped forward to push her back towards the “acceptable” route. And eventually, one of those someones killed her.
My favorite aspect of The Lady in Blue, hands down, was the authentic 1950s feel. The pages are peppered with slang like “necking” and “skedaddle” and nicknames such as “kitten” and “dollface.” When reading a scene in a beauty parlor or a description of a housewife retrieving her cigarettes from a decorative case, I felt like I had actually stepped back in time. Giarratano does a great job of portraying the social norms of the era, subtly but clearly demonstrating how different the world was just 60 years ago. For the first time, it really struck me how limited options were for women back then, how trapped they were by cultural expectations. It was a time in which no one batted an eye at teenagers getting married right out of high school, a time when young women were expected to dream of nothing more than being a dutiful wife and mother, when it was normal for girls to not know how to drive a car. This book made me infinitely grateful to be alive today and not in the 50s, poodle skirts and malt shops aside.
Something else that I really enjoyed was Giarratano’s writing. She has a smooth, pleasant style that is lovely without being showy or distracting. Her use of similes and other literary devices are spot-on, too. Here a couple of my favorite examples:
“I might’ve been a Bloom by name, but unlike the plants in my yard, I couldn’t flourish here. My mother, whether she meant to be or not, was like a black canvas laid down to smother the weeds.”
“I heard Henry say, ‘You caught the best-looking girl in town’ as if I were a prized trout ready to mount to the wall.”
Now, on to the one part of the story that didn’t quite work for me: the romance. I like to fall in love along with the characters in the books I’m reading, and that just didn’t happen here. This is largely due to the fact that the romance develops much too quickly. When Lana meets Andrew, a soldier who seems to appreciate and understand her more than her own family and friends, it makes sense that she’s intrigued. What doesn’t make sense, though, is how quickly she becomes comfortable with him, comfortable enough to not find it weird that he’s always turning up wherever she is, lurking in her backyard or at the house where she’s babysitting. Lana barely knows Andrew, yet she instantly feels a connection with him and can’t stop thinking about him. It didn’t ring true to me, and this was the main reason I couldn’t give the book a full 4 stars.
In fairness, The Lady in Blue is a novella rather than a full-length novel, which doesn’t provide as much page time for a meaningful, believable relationship to develop. Still, I really would have liked to have gotten to know Andrew more, to fall for him the way I fell for Danny in Grunge Gods and Graveyards, Giarratano’s debut novel.
Even though I wasn’t loving the romance in The Lady in Blue, I do still recommend it to anyone looking for a quick, interesting read with beautiful writing and a charming protagonist. I think it would be especially good for those who are interested in mysteries or ghost stories but are looking for subject matter that’s not too heavy or dark.
A free ARC of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.