Great Summer Reads II – Paranormal

090717 paranormal summer reading covers

‘Paranormal’ is a genre I love to read, whether it crosses over with romance, horror, or pure adventure. It’s a pretty broad category, and these are all very different books. But the five I didn’t write myself are all among my favourites reads, and I recommend all of them.

Storm Bound is my favourite in Dani Harper’s Grim series – a modern take on fairies, witches, and transformative magic. Her books are exciting, romantic, and often quite funny, and even the most bizarre of her fantastic creatures becomes somehow completely believable. If your heart doesn’t break for spellbound Aidan then it must be made of stone.

Jami Gold’s Mythos series introduces a whole range of stories that spring from the supposition that there is a mythical realm lying adjacent to our own – from this realm all our human mythologies arise. She has written a series of books, each focusing on the interactions between a particular Mythos denizen and the human world. This one, Unintended Guardian, is a piece of short fiction, offered free as an introduction to the Mythos universe. There are four full length novels to read as well. Any of them would make a great summer read.

Walking on Wild Air, my own contribution to the genre, is a ghost story with a difference – a male protagonist who is bound to his island hilltop; Scottish noir with nary a kilt or bagpipe in sight. Dougie MacLean is (perhaps literally) to die for, and his love is definitely worth the wait.

Shani Struthers writes a different kind of ghost story in her Psychic Surveys series – ghostly carryings-on are investigated by a team of psychics, who all have their own problems to contend with. The simple process of  sending souls to the light becomes ever more difficult as Ruby Davis and her team are forced to confront a true evil. The Haunting of Highdown Hall is the first in a critically acclaimed series, and I love them.

Last Days Forever is a story about angels. But like everything Vanessa Knipe writes it’s an original take on a familiar trope – indeed a number of familiar storylines are interwoven here, including a time travel strand. Clever, entertaining, well worth a read.

And lastly, Robin McKinley’s Sunshine has been around for a while now, but it’s still the best book about vampires I’ve ever read. Forget everything you’ve been told. This is the dance of light and dark, and it doesn’t go at all the way you expect. Neil Gaiman called this ‘a perfect work of magical literature’, and who am I to argue with the master?

Whatever you decide to read this summer, I hope you’ll consider one of these six. Or do you have a better suggestion? I’m always on the lookout for quality paranormal reads. Let me know what your favourites are.

Walking on Wild Air

Unintended Guardian

Storm Bound

The Haunting of Highdown Hall



Why Do Beautiful Days Hurt the Most?


Temple Wood cairn in Kilmartin Glen, by Lnolan at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,

So… there I was, driving home from family visits in England. I crossed the border early in the morning, with a quick stop at Gretna for coffee and to say ‘hello’ to Scotland. I had errands to run in Glasgow, and ended up mid-afternoon on the last leg of the journey to catch my ferry, pushing on through torrential rain in a queue of cars all possibly heading for the same destination. Due to a road closure, I’d been forced to take the long way round, south from Inveraray to Lochgilphead, and then up the back road to Oban. The rain gradually eased and the sky lightened. I passed through an area of poor radio reception and pressed the CD button.

I hadn’t registered it consciously, but over the last few weeks I’ve become less and less likely to be struck with a sudden wave of unbearable grief, and I’ve got used to driving again. It’s ages since I’ve had to actually pull off the road and curl up around a pain so awful that it feels as though I’m going to stop breathing. The empty hole in my chest is much larger than a heart ought to be – I’m sure it occupies its own mysterious pocket universe, as no matter how much I feel it seems to have an infinite ability to feel more at a moment’s notice. But there we are – I’d hardly thought about it at all for days. I hadn’t considered the way bad weather keeps us at home, or if we go out it makes us keep our heads down, concentrating on the task at hand rather than taking in our surroundings.

I came round a bend in the road just as the CD started up and a shaft of sunlight broke through the clouds and illuminated the rich green pastures of Kilmartin valley, one of the most beautiful and interesting pre-historic sites in Scotland. The song was Leonard Cohen’s “Ain’t No Cure For Love”, and its haunting saxophone intro hit my ears just as the shaft of sunlight struck the ground, and I remembered that this – this place, these ruins, this history – was one of the places I’d planned to bring Mark to, as soon as we had a chance.

It’s a very beautiful location – lush, rich pastures laid out across the floor of a broad valley, with scattered remains of cairns and standing stones dating from both Neolithic and Bronze Age periods of occupation. I went there with my Dad last October, and I’ve passed through a couple of times on the way to meetings. It’s such a contrast to the rough lands to the north, with their steep slopes and skeletal soils, fit only for forestry or vast swathes of bracken.

Mark had a great love for old places. He wasn’t necessarily compelled to find out the facts about them – he loved to wander into a ruin, perch himself on a pile of stones and pontificate about what life might have been like at the time they were laid down. There are certain abandoned villages on Mull that I can’t visit without breaking down, because his presence there is still so strong. He’d have loved Kilmartin; the place is rich with history: every stone has its story. Under the blade of sunlight lancing down from the heavens, all the brighter for the dark hint of rain behind it, the fields glowed an almost impossible shade of green and Cohen began,

I loved you for a long, long time.

I know this love is real.

It don’t matter how it all went wrong,

That don’t change the way I feel,

And I can’t believe that time is gonna heal

This wound I’m speaking of.

There ain’t no cure, there ain’t no cure, there ain’t no cure for love.

I shut my eyes. I was in the middle of traffic, at fifty miles per hour, on a winding country road and I shut my eyes. I couldn’t help myself. It only took seconds to extricate myself from the line of cars and pull into a side road where I could stop. There weren’t any tears – I doubled up over an oh-so-familiar pain and as the sunbeam broadened and the landscape glowed I heard myself making a terrible sound, like an animal with its leg in a trap. Interesting thought – if I could rid myself of this pain by some means analogous to gnawing my own leg off, or even if it was possible to free myself by some simple expedient such as medication (and don’t think it hasn’t been suggested to me) – I don’t believe I’d do it. I’m not ready to let go yet.

Someone asked  the other day – not just me, there was a group of us and it was a pretty general question – if you could bring anyone back from the dead for five minutes, who would it be? God. I would bring him back mouldering and half-skeletal for the pleasure of hearing his voice again. I would bring him back just long enough to get there and tell him I loved him before he was gone again. I’d bring him back simply to be there in that final moment, so that he would know he wasn’t dying alone. God help me I’d bring him back for good even if it ended time and destroyed the universe. Thank goodness it isn’t possible to raise the dead!

Of course I didn’t stop breathing. The song ended, the sun went back behind its cloud, the world became ordinary again. My heart kept beating. I’m sorry, my love. For such a long time I hoped it would stop. After all, it isn’t mine. You gave me your fragile but reliable heart, and I promised to take care of it. You broke mine, so badly that it couldn’t keep you alive any more, and now I have your steady beat in my chest and it won’t let me stop. The sun shines, there are still songs to be sung, and beautiful places are somehow even more beautiful now that I wear my nerves exposed and raw. And I couldn’t give your heart back now, even if I wanted to.

It was Philip Sidney (1554 – 1586) who wrote these lines. They are ours, and they remain true.

My true-love hath my heart and I have his,

By just exchange one for the other given:

I hold his dear, and mine he cannot miss;

There never was a bargain better driven.

His heart in me keeps me and him in one;

My heart in him his thoughts and senses guides:

He loves my heart, for once it was his own;

I cherish his because in me it bides.

His heart his wound received from my sight;

My heart was wounded with his wounded heart;

For as from me on him his hurt did light,

So still, methought, in me his hurt did smart:

Both equal hurt, in this change sought our bliss,

My true love hath my heart and I have his.