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Passion and Poison: Tales of Shape-Shifters, Ghosts and Spirited Women
by Janice M. Del Negro

In eight short stories written to thrill and haunt, Janice M. Del Negro introduces readers to women who confront ghosts, murderers, and the supernatural. In one tale, a beautiful widow sets out to accomplish an impossible task in order to marry the man of her choice. In another, a young woman must avenge the murder of her sister while avoiding becoming a victim herself. Most of the stories are based on classic folktales from America and Europe, but the tales have been updated and the perspective shifted to give personality and prominence to the female protagonists, who often went nameless in the original version. The text is accompanied by black and white illustrations.

As I read this book, I was somewhat reminded of the old Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books that I enjoyed so much back in elementary school. The books in that series, like Passion and Poison, were collections of short stories accompanied by black and white illustrations. The drawings that accompanied Scary Stories were terrifying; two decades later, they still give me the willies. The stories themselves were often silly or based on urban legends, but all the kids I knew enjoyed them and got freaked out by the illustrations.

In Passion and Poison, the strength of the stories comes from the text itself. These tales are made to be read out loud – from the first sentence, each story slips into an easy storyteller mode that builds atmosphere and heightens the suspense. Most of the stories are set in a vague historic America that could fall in the 19th or early 20th century – pretty much at any point pre-electricity, when everything depended on candlelight. Location is also unspecific – one story has a decidedly Western flavor, while another seems more likely to happen somewhere in New England, and a third is almost certainly somewhere in the South. The author's note at the back of the book explains the origins of many of the stories, if you're curious.

Now, is this a book that will send chills down your spine and make you jump? Probably not. If you've ever read a compilation of American folklore or European fairy tales, you'll recognize the stories and know the outcome right away. But the stories are told well, and to a younger audience not yet familiar with the material they'll be quite enjoyable.

The black and white illustrations definitely can't match the creep factor of Scary Stories. They're pretty and atmospheric rather than frightening. But I'm glad they're included – there's a softness to the pencil sketches that's really quite lovely.

4 out of 5 stars

To read more about Passion and Poison, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2012: The Second Empress by Michelle Moran
2011: Giveaway #15: Tales of the Tudors
2010: News: Press “Pause” on the Piranha
2009: Ashland 2009: Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
2008: Dali & I: The Surreal Story by Stan Layryssens


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