Biblioshelf Musings – Hag: Forgotten Folktales Retold

Happy Wednesday Bibliofriends,

Hag is a wonderfully relevant and apt anthology of British and Irish folktale retellings, perfect for the upcoming Halloween season. Filled with feisty female characters, atmospheric settings and morals aplenty, the fairytale lover within me thoroughly enjoyed rediscovering some of these bygone traditional tales.

Originally a podcast series, Professor Carolyne Larrington conjured up a writing experiment which tasked 8-10 inspiring British and Irish women authors to write a contemporary retelling of a forgotten folktale with a modern, feminist twist. This collection reminds me of a fresh uplift on the gothic horror genre – think Angela Carter meets Henry James’ Turn of the Screw. With particularly eerie and dark stories, the tales within are guaranteed to get you in the mood for Halloween and those darker nights by the fire.


Book: Hag by Various Authors
Genre: Short Stories / Fantasy
Publication Date: October 8th 2020
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group UK (Virago)
Pages: 288
Rating: 📚📚📚📚

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

DARK, POTENT AND UNCANNY, HAG BURSTS WITH THE UNTOLD STORIES OF OUR ISLES, CAPTURED IN VOICES AS VARIED AS THEY ARE VIVID.

Here are sisters fighting for the love of the same woman, a pregnant archaeologist unearthing impossible bones and lost children following you home. A panther runs through the forests of England and pixies prey upon violent men.

From the islands of Scotland to the coast of Cornwall, the mountains of Galway to the depths of the Fens, these forgotten folktales howl, cackle and sing their way into the 21st century, wildly reimagined by some of the most exciting women writing in Britain and Ireland today.

My Musings

As someone who has spent a fair bit of time reading folk/fairytales (I even did my dissertation on them) I was pleased to see a few of the more familiar and popular creatures making an appearance here such as selkies, boggarts, fairies and mermaids. That being said, the stories they were contained within felt fresh and new, I didn’t feel like I’d read any of them before – whilst the concepts may have been familiar, the stories themselves had me gripped to finding out what was going to happen, so they felt like more than just your average retellings.

What I particularly liked in Hag, was the focus on different regions from the UK rather than just a generalisation of British and Irish tales. It really did emphasise the nature of how transient traditional stories are and how they have shaped places across our entire nation. Also, the settings of each story became more relevant and heightened; you could visualise the area you live in and the places you’ve visited. Kudos too goes to the authors who managed to incorporate some the regional accents and dialects into the speech of their stories to make them all sound incredibly authentic.

The breakdown at the end recaps for the reader the ‘original’ tales as they may have been told in anthologies from the 19thand early 20thcenturies. These short snapshots not only refresh your memory of all the stories you’ve just read, but it also helps to see just how these tales have been revamped and updated for our 21st century world – they now have a modern diversity which wasn’t necessarily present in their earlier versions.

It is highly evident to see how much effort and hard work each author has put into their own retelling. Shamefully, I wasn’t aware when first diving into these stories just how well known some of these amazing writers are and it’s made me want to add more of their own voices and writings to my ever expanding TBR pile – there is some serious writing talent within this book and it shines off each and every page in the tone of the retellings and the way the stories have been brought to life within the pages.

Complete List of Tales

Below is a complete list of the authors, their revamped retelling, the location it is heralded from and a few examples of the author’s own works. (My personal favourites are starred)

Suffolk: A Retelling (Based on the Green Children of Woolpit) by Daisy Johnson [Fen; Everything Under; Sisters]

Yorkshire: Sour Hall (Based on Ay, We’re Flittin’) by Naomi Booth [The Lost Art of Sinking; Sealed]

Norfolk: Rosheen (Based on The Dauntless Girl) by Irenosen Okijie [Butterfly Fish; Strange Gigantular]

⭐️Orkney: Between Sea and Sky (Based on The Great Silkie of Sule Skerrie) by Kirsty Logan [Gracekeepers; Things We Say in the Dark]

⭐️Stafford: The Panther’s Tale (Based on Chillington House) by Mahsuda Snaith [Thing We Never Thought We Knew]

⭐️County Galway: The Tale of Kathleen by Eimear McBride [A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing; The Lesser Bohemians]

London: The Sisters (Based on Tavistock Square) by Liv Little [Editor-in-Chief of gal-dem Magazine]

Wales: The Dampness is Spreading (Based on The Fairy Midwife) by Emma Glass [Peach; Rest and Be Thankful]

⭐️Cornwall: The Droll of the Mermaid (Based on The Mermaid and the Man of Cury) by Natasha Carthew [All Rivers Run Free; Only The Ocean; The Light That Gets Lost]

Somerset: The Holloway (Based on Old Farmer Mole) by Imogen Hermes Gowar [The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock]

Favourite Quotes:

Sad, isn’t it, how many beautiful things we have destroyed to find out truths.
– Between Sea and Sky by Kirsty Logan

The trees surround her like giants from the folktales her mother recited: dark, looming, with crooked arms.
– The Panther’s Tale by Mahsuda Snaith

And if tales of her spirit seen dancing there surfaced, it should be remembered such stories are common enough. They are almost to be expected and should be looked sceptically upon – depending, of course, on how much of the rest of this story you believed anyway.
– The Tale of Kathleen by Eimear McBride

Song for the forgotten, a few words turned towards the ocean waves the place where the legend began where for some of them it would certainly end.
– The Droll of the Mermaid by Natasha Carthew

Why Should I Read This?

For the ominous, autumnal vibes.
For the rediscovery of traditional tales from the heritage of our nation.
For the exceptional storytelling prowess of some seriously powerful female authors.

If you love your folktales / retellings / contemporary female voices or you just want something to give you spooky and caliginous chills this October then Hag may be the perfect collection for you!

Find out more about this book here:

Amazon | NetGalley| Virago | Waterstones

Connect with me here:

Twitter | Goodreads | Book Sloth: @thebiblioshelf |Email: thebiblioshelf@gmail.com

Biblioshelf Musings – Beach Read by Emily Henry

Good morning Bibliofriends,

Beach Read was exactly the type of hangover cure I needed to get me out of my 2-week reading slump. It almost comes across as two sides of a coin – funny, yet deep; romantic, yet heartbreaking – one moment you’re wanting to put yourself in January’s shoes, the next you’re glad you don’t have to live through the bereavement she’s had to face. Then on top of all that – there’s the homage to books, writing and the added bonus of practically reading books within a book. It was an utter delight from start to finish.


Book: Beach Read by Emily Henry
Genre: Romance
Publication Date: May 18th 2020
Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 361
Rating: 📚📚📚📚

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

He doesn’t believe in happy endings.
She’s lost her faith that they exist.
But could they find one together?


January is a hopeless romantic who likes narrating her life as if she’s the heroine in a blockbuster movie.
Augustus is a serious literary type who thinks true love is a fairy-tale.
January and Augustus are not going to get on.

But they actually have more in common than you’d think:

They’re both broke.
They’ve got crippling writer’s block.
They need to write bestsellers before the end of the summer.

The result? A bet to see who can get their book published first.
The catch? They have to swap genres.
The risk? In telling each other’s stories, their worlds might be changed entirely… 

My Musings

What made me read Beach Read? I needed a break from all of the witchy, spooky fiction and folklore I had consumed myself with over the past month. That, coupled with the fact that I wanted to cling on to those last glorious rays of summer – Beach Read seemed to offer me exactly that.

This may sound odd (complete book rambling – apologies), but the first thing I had to contend with when starting ‘Beach Read’ was that I had shamefully I knowanticipated a chick-litty rom-com taking place on a far-off tropical paradise of a popular holiday destination, when actually the novel takes place around a quaint town on the shores of Lake Michigan. Having not visited anywhere outside of Disneyworld and living in a leafy, hilly area of the UK, nearby lakes and bodies of water are nowhere near the size comparison of the type of Great Lakes in the US and Canada so I had to adjust my perception of the type of beach read I’d be reading. Chick-litty, it was not… Holiday destination, it also was not… 

January starts off by not wanting to even be at the beach house but with the introduction of next-door-neighbour-also-author Gus, Pete and Maggie (Sapphic couple), owners of a café/bookshop, we gradually get let in to the life of North Bear Shores and all of the adventures that await our protagonist. I grew to love this bunch of characters; the way they look out for each other, the stories that give us deeper insight into their histories – it was almost Goldilocks style ‘just-right’ perfection. 

The plot centres, quite brilliantly, around two authors suffering from writers’ block and the bet they enter into to embark on research trips benefitting the other’s genre and writing style. This leads to some of the most memorable, funny and moving parts of the novel. The balance between what constitutes literary fiction and what makes up the romance genre gradually get explored; the lines between them becoming blurred as two authors find their inspiration from each other and learn to face their own personal demons at the same time. A book about writers writing their novels – what more could a book-loving, aspiring author want to read?!

And then there’s the romance – my heart and stomach was swooping and diving the whole way through (and it isn’t often that books like this will do that to me). I was absolutely rooting for Gus and January – every obstacle that got in the way had me screaming at them with my silent reading megaphone in my head – two battered souls helping each other heal… It was steamy, it was heartbreaking, it was tender; but what’s more, it was real, believable and so entirely relatable which is probably why my bookish soul became so entangled with it.

I wanted to live through January and put myself in her shoes – until Emily Henry skilfully brings you back to earth and plays the dysfunctional family card. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that there is no such thing as an entirely happy family. Each one has their own vices, demons and secrets which are lived through behind closed doors. January Andrews is no different and learning the truth of her father’s actions and motivations, why things were the way they were was the big mountain she was trying to face. The tentative, nostalgic way she finally confronts this towards the end of the novel, is the part which gave me tiny tears rolling down my face whilst trying to read. It’s a stark reminder that the flip-side of love is sometimes loss and on a really personal level it harkened to my greatest fear of losing the people I love the most. That balance between joyfully finding love whilst going through the devastation of bereavement was so beautifully handled, written and dealt with. I think that’s why I was so thoroughly surprised by how much I enjoyed and cherished this book.

Favourite Quotes:

Happy endings don’t matter if the getting there sucks.

It didn’t take inspiration to dredge up a list of plot points, but to find that moment – the perfect moment that defined a book, that made it come alive as something greater than the sum of its words – that required an alchemy you couldn’t fake.

No matter how much shit, there will always be wildflowers.

We can never fully know the people we love. When we lose them, there will always be more we could have seen.

The only promise you ever had in life was the one moment you were living.

Why Should I Read This?

For a swoon worthy, heart-fluttering romance.
For the tender balance between love, loss and facing our inner demons.
For the homage to writers and books which bounces off the pages.

This is a bookishly great romance novel which goes deeper than your average ‘chick-lit’ style aspects of the genre. It’s an incredibly moving story with two highly relatable characters on their quest to get their mojo back. I loved it!

Find out more about this book here:

Amazon | Penguin| Author’s Instagram | Waterstones

Connect with me here:

Twitter | Goodreads | Book Sloth: @thebiblioshelf |Email: thebiblioshelf@gmail.com