Sunday, February 10, 2013

Review: Two and Twenty Dark Tales

Two and Twenty Dark Tales: Dark Retellings of Mother Goose Rhymes
by various authors

Available as: paperback, Kindle edition, ebook
Pages: 340
Publisher: Month9Books
Publication date: October 16, 2012
Suggested tags: young adult, short stories, dark fantasy, retellings

From Goodreads:
"In this anthology, 20 authors explore the dark and hidden meanings behind some of the most beloved Mother Goose nursery rhymes through short story retellings. The dark twists on classic tales range from exploring whether Jack truly fell or if Jill pushed him instead to why Humpty Dumpty, fragile and alone, sat atop so high of a wall. The authors include Nina Berry, Sarwat Chadda, Leigh Fallon, Gretchen McNeil, and Suzanne Young."

{ I received this as an ebook ARC from NetGalley. }

I so love fairy tale retellings. For me, a really good retelling transforms a familiar tale into something totally new and unique, but still preserves the spirit of the original. Two and Twenty Dark Tales collects some fantastic dark retellings by twenty authors. The anthology includes some familiar Mother Goose favorites, but it also introduced me to some new nursery rhymes I hadn't heard before. I really loved Two and Twenty Dark Tales and will definitely be rereading these tales again in the future. Definitely recommended to anyone who enjoys fairy tale retellings.

Two and Twenty Dark Tales includes:

As Blue as the Sky and Just as Old by Nina Berry (3 stars)
A retelling of the "Taffy was a Welshman" nursery rhyme. It was a solid start to the anthology. I don't want to give too much away about the plot, because the whole story is basically learning about Aderyn's past and who she is. But I will say that I liked the Welsh focus and the way Berry interpreted the lines of the nursery rhyme into a really creative sort of symbolism.

Sing a Song of Six-Pence by Sarwat Chadda (4 stars)
A retelling of the "Sing a song of sixpence" nursery rhyme (obviously). This one was really dark and creepy, featuring demons and spirits and a dangerous bargain. Chadda created an amazing world here that just seeps darkness and decay.

Clockwork by Leah Cypess (4 stars)
A retelling of the "Hickory, dickory, dock" nursery rhyme. Cypess creates a complicated kingdom and story in a brief amount of pages. A princess has been pushed from her throne, a witch lies waiting in a cottage in the woods, and a grandfather clock seems to possess a strange enchantment.

Blue by Sayantani DasGupta (5 stars)
A retelling of the "Little Boy Blue" nursery rhyme. WOW. Holy gorgeous prose. The story of a girl, a Child of Ink who writes stories upon people, is told in a touching, lyrical first-person narration. I can't say enough about DasGupta's writing style. Absolutely beautiful. This story alone makes me want to read everything else she's ever written.

Pieces of Eight by Shannon Delany with Max Scialdone (3 stars)
A retelling of the "Sleep, baby, sleep" nursery rhyme. This is a really rich fantasy that could easily be developed into a full-length story. I liked learning what the pieces of eight were and figuring out what Marnum had to do to shake the dreamland tree, pretty much simultaneously as he was figuring it out himself. I'd be reading along as he tried things and I'd think, "Oh, I bet he has to do this instead," and then he'd try what I was thinking and he'd get a few more clues from it, and I'd think,"Oh, wait, no, I bet it's this," and then he'd try that too... It was fun to feel like I was kind of along for the ride.

Wee Willie Winkie by Leigh Fallon (4 stars)
A retelling of the "Wee Willie Winkie" nursery rhyme (obviously). This one was so creepy. A girl has moved to a new town where everyone is much older than she is, but one night she learns why there are no more children in town. As I was reading the ending, I realized I was gripping my Kindle literally with white knuckles. It's a really excellent horror story. I'm still freaked out.

Boys & Girls Come Out to Play by Angie Frazier (4 stars)
A retelling of the "Girls and boys, come out to play" nursery rhyme. Bronwyn's twin is called to play by the witches, but Bronwyn tries to go in her sister's place. I really liked this one. This is another one that probably could be extended into a full-length story. The only thing that didn't really work for me was the love triangle (or what seemed like an implied love triangle) between Bronwyn, Rhys, and Maddox; it just felt a little forced for such a short period of time to introduce and intermingle the three characters.

I Come Bearing Souls by Jessie Harrell (2 stars)
A retelling of the "Hey, diddle, diddle" nursery rhyme. Eh. This one didn't really do it for me. I was hooked at the very beginning by the idea of Egyptian gods reincarnated into modern-day siblings; one sister plays a cello to call out the souls from the dead and another carries the souls in her hand to the Underworld. It really seemed like this was going to be right up my alley. But for me, this amazing storyline was kind of bogged down by a snarky first-person narrator (the girl who carries the souls). I wanted to get lost in the story, but her voice just kept jolting me back out of it. And the ending didn't really do it for me either. But this is just my opinion - it is a well-written story and I'm sure other readers would love it.

The Lion and the Unicorn: Part the First by Nancy Holder (2 stars)
A retelling of "The lion and the unicorn" nursery rhyme. King James I is king of England, and Susanna, disguised as a boy and serving the king, witnesses his disturbing actions with prisoners accused of witchcraft in his dungeons. This one was really heavy on the satanic side, and to be honest, it made me a little uncomfortable. I have no problem with witchcraft; in fact, I like reading books about witches and etc. But this one was focused on satanism and demons and it was just a little too much for me. If you don't have a problem with that sort of thing and you're a historical fiction fan, you'll probably love this story. (Please note: my ARC did not include Part the Second, so my review of this story is purely based on Part the First.)

Life in a Shoe by Heidi R. Kling (2 stars)
A retelling of the "There was an old woman who lived in a shoe" nursery rhyme. This one seemed a little dystopian; a daughter lives with her mother and her many siblings in a town where you can be punished for not having children. It was ok, but there wasn't much substance. It was a very literal interpretation of the fairy tale: in a nutshell, it's about a woman who has too many children living in a house so small it's called a "shoebox," and she gives her children broth with no bread and whips them.

Candlelight by Suzanne Lazear (3 stars)
A retelling of the "How many miles to Babylon?" nursery rhyme. This one read a little more juvenile than the others, but I still enjoyed it. Two sisters think their life is just too unfair with all their mother's rules, so they jump at the chance to magically travel to another world. The cautionary message that's woven in makes this one read kind of like a moral fable.

One for Sorrow by Karen Mahoney (3 stars)
A retelling of the "One for sorrow, two for joy" nursery rhyme. A crow visits a girl night after night, and she begins to think this might not be just an ordinary crow. Kind of an interesting story, again with a witch and a strange enchantment. I was kind of looking forward to how Mahoney would work in the counting bit, but from what I gathered, she didn't. Unless the "tap tap tap" the crow first gives the girl on her windowpane counts as "three for a girl."

Those Who Whisper by Lisa Mantchev (5 stars)
A retelling of "The girl and the birds" nursery rhyme. Wow, I loved this one. Great writing and a story that completely wrapped me up in it. A girl can communicate with birds, and they tell her some very interesting and dangerous things. There was a little romance in this one (or at least I took it as budding romance), but it was nurtured and developed slowly, rather than thrust into the story just for the sake of having a romantic element. This is another author I'll be following.

Little Miss Muffet by Georgia McBride (3 stars)
A retelling of the "Little Miss Muffet" nursery rhyme (obviously). This was a little bizarre and threw in some unexpected twists, so I don't want to say too much about the plot for fear of ruining the surprises. It was a creative idea with some clever little references to other nursery rhyme characters.

Sea of Dew by C. Lee McKenzie (5 stars)
A retelling of the "Winkin', Blinkin', and Nod" nursery rhyme. Reading through the original rhyme, I was thinking, "How the heck is McKenzie going to reinterpret this?" The answer, turns out, is: amazingly. This is a great survival story that takes on a fantastic and touching turn at the end. Excellent retelling; McKenzie really turned this into something new and original while still holding on to the essence of the Mother Goose version.

Tick Tock by Gretchen McNeil (3 stars)
A retelling of "There's a neat little clock" nursery rhyme. A girl takes on a babysitting job at a new house after her friend is a no-show. This one was a little on the "horror" side, but there's really no surprise element. You kind of know from the start what's going to happen. Still, it's a nice creepy read.

A Pocket Full of Posy by Pamela van Hylckama Vlieg (3 stars)
A retelling of the "Ring around the rosie" nursery rhyme. I gotta be honest...I was kind of hoping this one would pull from the rhyme's historical bubonic plague basis. But I'm morbid like that. And I guess it would have been a little too predictable. In this one, a guy wakes up with blood on his hands and no idea what happened. I was really into it up to a certain point (SPOILER - highlight to read: vampires? really?), and then my interest waned a little.

The Well by K.M. Walton (4 stars)
A retelling of the "Jack and Jill went up the hill" nursery rhyme. A brother and sister deal with some serious sibling rivalry in a bleak, dystopian setting. Pretty disturbing, but I liked it.

The Wish by Suzanne Young (3 stars)
A retelling of the "Star light, star bright" nursery rhyme. A girl has a lot going wrong in her life, so she makes an impulsive wish on a star. A dark romance with a twist at the end. Not a bad story, but not one of my favorites in this anthology.

A Ribbon of Blue by Michelle Zink (3 stars)
A retelling of the "Johnny's so long at the fair" nursery rhyme. A girl leads a rather lonely existence living with her grandmother, but she looks forward to the carnival coming to town every year. When she was thirteen, a fortune teller at the carnival predicted freedom, light, and love for her. This year, the prediction seems to be coming true. A nicely paced story with a sort of magical feel and a bittersweet ending.

Please note: my ARC did not include Interlude: Humpty Dumpty, a poem by Georgia McBride, Sea of Dew (extended version) by C. Lee McKenzie, or The Lion and The Unicorn: Part the Second by Nancy Holder.

Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars