221. Two and Twenty Dark Tales: Dark Retellings of Mother Goose Rhymes edited by Georgia McBride

Two and Twenty Dark Tales:Dark Retellings of Mother Goose Rhymes edited by Georgia McBride. Introduction by Francisco X. Stork (US) - (Canada)

Pages:  340
Ages: 13+
Finished: Sept. 16, 2012
First Published:  Oct. 16, 2012
Publisher: Month9Books
Genre: short stories, anthology, horror, fairy tales, paranormal
Rating: 3.5/5

First sentence: "When the girl sneaked in at midnight, he used his penlight to make a note."

Publisher's Summary:  "Who doesn't love Mother Goose? 

From Jack and Jill falling down the hill, to Old Mother Hubbard and her poor dog. 

These are the stories and songs from our childhood. But you've never heard Mother Goose told quite like this. 

Twenty-two dark young adult retellings of Mother Goose rhymes from some of today's most exciting YA authors are featured in this anthology."

Acquired:  Received an egalley from the publisher through NetGalley.

Reason for Reading: I love fairytale retellings and this was too compelling a prospect to pass up!

I was quite excited to read this collection as these retellings are right up my alley with the type of short stories that I enjoy, being based on Mother Goose was rather unique as well since most such anthologies stick to traditional fairy tales.  First taking a look through the Table of Contents I was a bit disappointed as I'd only heard of 3 of the authors and only read 2 of them (McBride, Stork & Holden).  All the others were brand new-to-me so I didn't know what I was in for but I'm happy to say I had a pleasant experience with this book.  I did read an advance reading copy provided by the publisher so my copy was missing the last two stories and my review is based on that version.  My overall rating for the book is actually 3.5 / 5 making it sit between Good and Very Good, not quite either, somewhere in between.  There was one story that I thought was absolute garbage and gave a 0 rating and that will have brought my total enjoyment down, but I did find several excellent 5* and very good 4* stories in this collection.  A great book for the Hallowe'en season or anytime for the reader who likes an eerie, dark tale where not all endings are happy.

1. As Blue As the Sky and Just As Old by Nina Berry - Uses the rhyme "Taffy was a Welshman" as its base.  Basically using the concepts of Welsh and thief the author has conjured up a fantastic original Welsh fairytale.  I can't say what it is about as both the main character and the reader are clueless as to what is happening as events unravel and I wouldn't want to spoil the story.  Absolutely fabulous start to this collection. 5/5

2. Sing a Song of Sixpence by Sarwat Chadda - A creepy tale of demons and souls.  Blackbird waits at the the Inn "Sixpence", where many demons hang out.  Here desperate humans come to him to sell their souls.  When the maid comes in, Blackbird knows she has come for him but is surprised when it is not her soul she has to sell him.  Interesting use of all the elements of the nursery rhyme are incorporated realistically into this dark tale, even the bit about the maid's nose gets worked in very well!  4/5

3. Clockwork by Leah Cypes - Interesting use of the elements of "Hickory, Dickory Dock" used as the components in a spell, in which a princess has been turned into a mouse and as the story starts she turns back into herself by touching the clock as it strikes the hour.  The plot here was rather cliched with a certain member of the royal lineage getting rid of those ahead in line to usurp the throne. But has a unique and dark twist ending.  3/5

4. Blue by Sayantani DasGupta - Uses the rhyme "Little Boy Blue" as its base.  Doesn't really adhere to the rhyme much, using symbolism more than anything and being about Boy & Blue.  A rather strange little tale, much shorter than the previous works so far.  Has a haunting atmosphere, but didn't really do all that much for me with an abrupt ending. 3/5

5. Pieces of Eight by Shannon Delany with Max Scialdone - Uses the lullaby "Sleep, Baby, Sleep" as its base which I've never heard of before and according to the words the authors only loosely based their story upon it.  This is your basic fantasy quest and this story was longer than any of the others so far.  Not bad, it didn't quite grip me as the plot where the hero is to gather together the words of a song to save the Dreamland Tree (and thus return magic to the world) before it was destroyed by non-believers was somewhat cliched.  It was still a pleasant diversion though.  3/5

6. Wee Willie Winkie by Leigh Fallon - I loved this one!  Can't say much about it as it was quite short but it explores the question "why do the children have to be in bed by 8 o'clock?".  A very creepy little story.  Probably my favourite so far.  5/5

7. Boys & Girls Come Out to Play by Angie Frazier - Based on the titular rhyme which I have heard but am not that familiar with all the words.  Another creepy story.  When you are invited to "come out to play" legend has it that this is not an invitation you can decline.  When a girl's recently brain injured sister receives the invitation she takes her place, finding out a shocking truth and the reality of deceptions. 5/5

8. I Come Bearing Souls by Jessie Harrell. Based on the rhyme "Hey, Diddle, Diddle". - Very unique story which uses the animals found in the rhyme to relate to the appropriate Ancient Egyptian gods and their myth of weighing the soul against the feather of truth when a person dies.  Set in a funeral home, these gods are living as humans, performing their godly duties until Hathor has a run-in with Amemit. 4/5

9. The Lion and the Unicorn: Part the First by Nancy Holder - Based on the titular rhyme. I used to love this rhyme as it was a gorgeously illustrated 2-page spread in my childhood nursery rhyme book.  This is a historical paranormal story.  The Lion & the Unicorn represents the British Royal shield at the time with King James being the Unicorn.  He was a pious man and deeply convicted in ridding the nation of witches.  What his page discovers in the depth of the torture rooms in the dungeons makes him have serious doubts about the King.  A spooky story with evil lurking everywhere. Does not have an ending as Part the Second will appear further in the book (3/5)

10. Life in a Shoe by Heidi R. Kling - Based on rhyme "The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe".  Here the "shoe" refers to a shoe-sized apartment. Takes place in a dystopian future that is utterly unbelievable.  This is an anti-life cautionary tale and the biggest piece of cr*p I have ever read.  Being a short story, it makes assumptions and has no space to explain itself.  I could write an essay longer than the story refuting every ludicrous and asinine assumption it presents to the audience.  Painful to read.  Filth and cr*p.  (0/5)

11. Candlelight by Suzanne Lazear. Based on the rhyme "How Many Miles to Babylon?" - Two disgruntled sisters are very mad at their strict mother and when given the chance to go somewhere where they can always do whatever they want, be happy, with no adults around to tell them what to do, they accept.  Following the instructions, going by candlelight, they arrive in Babylon and it is everything they could have wished for; that is until they decide they miss their mother and want to return home.  An eerie "Twilight Zone" atmosphere and ending.  While I didn't predict what exactly happened, you do know that something strange is going to happen almost from the beginning.  Fun!  3/5

12. One for Sorrow by Karen Mahone - Based on the titular counting rhyme which I am not too familiar with.  - This simply uses the "crow" from the rhyme as its theme.  This is a fairly tale along the lines of the prince is cursed and turned into a frog, only this time it's not a prince and he is turned into a crow.  His people originally had the ability to shape-shift between crow and human but a witch has trapped him in his crow form.  I really enjoy "shapeshifters" when they are not the usual wolf or common animals, but this story just didn't reel me in.  It seemed over long and I had a hard time concentrating on it, finding my mind wandering, perhaps it was my own state of mind at the time but I think not as the story had no real excitement just gentle ebbs and flows. 3/5

13. Those Who Whisper by Lisa Mantchev - Based on the rhyme "When I was a little girl, about seven years old". This is a completely obscure and new rhyme to me! This is an intriguing story of the daughter of the village "healer/witch".  Upon her mother's death she is still a young girl but is taken far from the village boundaries and told never to return.  She was trained by her mother in the art of herbal knowledge and at this time we learn the birds can speak to her.  I won't get into any details but the blacksmith and his son play vital roles and the story is a romance such as most fairy tales turn out to be.  A dark theme, but a pleasant tale.  4/5

14. Little Miss Muffet by Georgia McBride - Based on the titular rhyme.  A very short tale with the theme of shapeshifters.  Any guess what "animal" they shift into?  Takes a shocking twist in the middle and ends  abruptly. Good creepy fun!  4/5

15. Sea of Dew by C. Lee McKenzie - Based on "Winkin, Blinkin' and Nod". Fantastic story! A girl on a school cruise ship finds herself pulled aboard a lifeboat with three stowaways after the ship sinks.  The story starts with the four teens in the boat.  A dark morbid tale which is my favourite in the collection so far; surpassing the wee willie winkie one as it is much longer and has much more development and backstory. (5/5)

16. Tick Tock by Gretchen McNeil - Based on the rhyme "There's a neat little clock" which I have never heard of before.  This story is fairly short and would most of all the stories so far fall into the horror genre.  This involves a drive far out into the countryside to a manor house all by itself and the terrifying events that follow.  Very creepy, but didn't really have a point and so when it ended I just felt like I didn't get it.  (3/5)

17.  A Pocket Full of Posy by Pamela van Hylckama Vlieg - Based on the rhyme "Ring around the roses".  A teenage boy wakes up in the park with blood all over himself and a flower posy in his pocket.  This is a freaky tale with a really good build up.  The boy has no memory of what happened and the story builds up to the reveal (which isn't what you think it's going to be).  However the ending wasn't that satisfying for me.  4/5

18.  The Wall by K.M. Walton. Based on the rhyme "Jack and Jill".  A dystopian tale where twins Jack and Jack, along with their Nan, have survived a virus that has wiped out the world, as far as they know.  Jack and Jill have always hated each other and the teamwork and camaraderie needed for survival is not coming easy for them.  Nan dies a natural death of old age leaving the siblings on their own, with their hatred of each other.  All around enjoyed this one.  5/5

19.  The Wish by Suzanne Young. Based on the rhyme "Star light, star bright." A girl is at a party on a ship and goes out on the deck by herself, seeing the lone star in the sky she makes her wish, "I wish I were dead."  and has the night of her life.  Another dark story that leads up to its eerie ending, which is predictable but nonetheless, fun getting there. 4/5

20.  A Ribbon of Blue by Michelle Zink. Based on the rhyme " Oh dear, what can the matter be?". A 13 year old girl with cerebral palsy is taken to the carnival for the first time by her guardian, her grandmother, where she has her fortune told.  It raises her spirits and compels her to return to the carnival each year, looking for the fortune teller, who has never reappeared, and for the revelation of her fortune to come true.  In her 16th year, as her grandmother is close to death, now riddled with emphysema, she guiltily makes her way to the carnival and finds that life, love and freedom are indeed glorious but not always what you think they may be.  I thought this story was well-written, however didn't find it very eerie or dark, and the ending was predictable for me. 3/5

21-22.  I received an advanced reading copy from the publisher which does not include the final two stories. Therefore my review and rating is based on the above mentioned 20 out of 22 tales presented in this book.

P.S. I also posted a review today, #275, on LibraryThing only, of a magazine I read: Somerset Studio Sep/Oct 2012.


  1. Sounds like an interesting story collection - and perfect for this time of year!


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