Monday, October 5, 2009

Lest That Your Heart's Blood Should Run Cold

Passion and Poison: Tales of Shape-Shifters, Ghosts, and Spirited Women by Janice M. Del Negro
Illustrations by Vince Natale
Marshall Cavendish Children's Books , 2007

Passion and Poison
is a splendid little anthology of original gothic tales and retellings of classic folk stories. This book is unique not only for the fact that it features only female protagonists, but also for the fact that the featured women are strong, logical, and matter of fact in their dealings with the supernatural, gore, and horror. This book is so refreshing for a reader who grew up watching 80’s slasher flicks where the female characters stumbled around, screamed, and mentally wilted or physically perished in the face of fear and danger.

The stories in this book tackle themes of revenge, loss, bravery, and redemption. The female characters, though diverse, share the common threads of strength and keen observation. These women are perceptive. These women are strong. They know how to fend for themselves. They know when to, how to, and who to fight for.

My favorite tale in this book is “The Severed Hand” which is a retelling of the English tale "Mr. Fox." A desirable young woman, hounded by many determined suitors, finally falls for a dashing stranger. They become engaged. However, a solo jaunt into the woods leads to the woman being stranded in the woods near dusk. Knowing her fiancĂ©’s home is near she sees no harm calling upon him unannounced. After all, they are engaged to be wed. Realizing nobody is home she lets herself in to wait and upon entering, notices a strange motto above the door. Each door she enters in the home has an even stranger motto and curiosity gets the best of her as she continues to explore the house. While curiosity doesn’t kill the cat in this case, the young maid stumbles upon a horrifyingly gory scene and realizes a horrific truth. Her fate seems to be certain death until we see our protagonist’s problem solving skills, which were hidden so properly behind her demure nature and stunning beauty. Ah, how I love a young woman who can hold her own amongst a slithering snake, and how!

It is my supreme delight to recommend this book to all readers of short read aloud gothic stories. While the reading level of the book is proper for 5-6 graders, I think all of us can find a character to relate to in one, if not all, of these eight tales. My only complaint is that there were eight short stories in this book and not eighteen.

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