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The Secret of Laurel Oaks    by Lois Ruby order for
Secret of Laurel Oaks
by Lois Ruby
Order:  USA  Can
Starscape, 2008 (2008)
* * *   Reviewed by Ricki Marking-Camuto

What makes for a good ghost story? A bit of the truth, that's what and that is exactly what Lois Ruby delivers in The Secret of Laurel Oaks. Ever since her friend died, Lila Barry has had a fascination with ghosts. So when her mom allows her to pick the hotel for their visit to St. Francisville, Louisiana, she books two nights at the haunted Laurel Oaks Plantation.

As soon as they arrive, Lila starts to notice creepy things, but her brother is in denial. During the night, Lila is visited by Daphne, one of the ghosts of Laurel Oaks Plantation, who tells her she must find the babies in the wall. Lila does not understand what she is talking about, but wants to help. In order to solve the mystery, she needs the help of Sal, a young girl who lives at Laurel Oaks, and her brother's trust that the things she is seeing are real.

While Lila's story is completely fictional, Daphne's (which is told in alternating chapters) is based on fact. Daphne tells of the harshness of slave life on a cotton plantation and the beliefs the slaves keep to help make their lives easier. Also, Daphne is a thinly veiled version of Chloe, a slave from the Myrtles Planation. Like Daphne did in The Secret of Laurel Oaks, Chloe was caught listening in on one of the judge's conversations, so he ordered her ear be cut off. Shortly afterwards, it is rumored that Chloe killed the judge's daughters and wife with a birthday cake laced with poisonous oleander. It is said that Chloe and the young girls still haunt Myrtles Plantation, putting it on the Smithsonian's registry of the top ten most haunted places in America.

The bits of truth that Lois Ruby weaves into The Secret of Laurel Oaks are what make it mysterious and chilling. This is a great book for learning more about plantation life, but reading it at night will definitely give you the creeps.

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