The best apocalyptic thriller novels for when you really want to be scared

Who am I?

My parents joined an evangelical cult when I was ten years old, and I was taught to fear everything, to truly believe I was an evil child, and that God wanted rule-following, humble servants who cowered before him. When I tried to rebel, I was punished and sent away to a cult camp in Colorado where a creepy pastor exhorted us daily. I finally escaped the cult for good when I was 17, but it took a long, long time to recover. Now, along with writing dark novels, I teach wilderness survival and the neuroscience of survival, and I try to apply my knowledge and skills when writing my characters in the American Afterlife series.


I wrote...

American Afterlife

By Pedro Hoffmeister,

Book cover of American Afterlife

What is my book about?

The Pacific Northwest lies in ruins in the aftermath of the 9.2 Cascadia earthquake. 15-year-old Cielo is separated from her immigrant mother, a fearful evangelical who’s been caught up in a cult called The Collection of Redeemed Souls. At the time of the earthquake, Cielo’s mother hasn’t been home in days, and Cielo suspects that she’s holed up with the cult or might even be dead.

With gunfights and mass killings engulfing the city, Cielo is one step away from her own demise, but the bonds of blood drive her on toward a confrontation with pure evil—and a final chance for her mother’s redemption. 

The books I picked & why

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Station Eleven

By Emily St. John Mandel,

Book cover of Station Eleven

Why this book?

Station Eleven starts with the world falling apart, then moves forward. Since my novel starts two days after an earthquake, I thought Mandel’s book could teach me about the aftermath. And it did. Mandel’s book is incredible, and also features a strong female lead (like my book). But Mandel’s novel is also a weird book, and weird tends to work when it comes to post-apocalyptic material. The cult leader in my novel has to be at least a little bit influenced by the airport cult leader of Mandel’s imagination.

Station Eleven

By Emily St. John Mandel,

Why should I read it?

16 authors picked Station Eleven as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Best novel. The big one . . . stands above all the others' - George R.R. Martin, author of Game of Thrones

Now an HBO Max original TV series

The New York Times Bestseller
Winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award
Longlisted for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction
National Book Awards Finalist
PEN/Faulkner Award Finalist

What was lost in the collapse: almost everything, almost everyone, but there is still such beauty.

One snowy night in Toronto famous actor Arthur Leander dies on stage whilst performing the role of a lifetime. That same evening a deadly virus touches down in…


The Handmaid's Tale

By Margaret Atwood,

Book cover of The Handmaid's Tale

Why this book?

Margaret Atwood is terrifying even in subtle scenes, and I love how unsettled she makes you in this story. I never felt comfortable while reading The Handmaid’s Tale. I couldn’t put it down, and it stayed in my head afterward. The cult in my novel has a similar utilitarian attitude toward females as the leaders do in Gilead, and I give full credit to Atwood for influencing me as I revised my novel and wrote the religious sermons given by my cult leader. Bonus: Her sequel The Testaments taught me a lot as well.

The Handmaid's Tale

By Margaret Atwood,

Why should I read it?

22 authors picked The Handmaid's Tale as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

** THE SUNDAY TIMES NO. 1 BESTSELLER **
**A BBC BETWEEN COVERS BIG JUBILEE READ**

Go back to where it all began with the dystopian novel behind the award-winning TV series.

'As relevant today as it was when Atwood wrote it' Guardian

I believe in the resistance as I believe there can be no light without shadow; or rather, no shadow unless there is also light.

Offred is a Handmaid in The Republic of Gilead, a religious totalitarian state in what was formerly known as the United States. She is placed in the household of The Commander, Fred Waterford -…


The River

By Peter Heller,

Book cover of The River

Why this book?

Any Peter Heller novel will work here—The Dog Stars, The Painter, etc.—but The River is really interesting for a few reasons: Heller pushes his characters into the unknown on a river that serves both as a literal symbol and a propulsive, metaphorical symbol. There’s no way to backtrack on a river, so his two friends can’t go backwards. Then we add in the imminent danger of a forest fire and the creepy people also on the river with them, and the whole entire mix is scary!

The River

By Peter Heller,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The River as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

ONE OF THE OBSERVER THRILLERS OF THE YEAR: 'GLORIOUS PROSE AND RAZOR-SHARP TENSION'

'LYRICAL AND ACTION-PACKED' Guardian
'I COULDN'T TURN THE PAGES FAST ENOUGH' Clare Mackintosh
'IMPOSSIBLE TO PUT DOWN, OR FORGET' Sunday Mirror
'GLORIOUS DRAMA AND LYRICAL FLAIR Denise Mina, New York Times

Two friends
Wynn and Jack have been best friends since their first day of college, brought together by their shared love the great outdoors.

The adventure of a lifetime
When they decide to canoe down the Maskwa River in northern Canada, they anticipate the ultimate wilderness experience: no phones, no fellow travellers, no way of going…


The Road

By Cormac McCarthy,

Book cover of The Road

Why this book?

This novel terrified me as well as taught me how to pace a scary, post-apocalyptic story. In this book—which I read twice—every tender moment between the boy and his father is juxtaposed against the harshness of the landscape or the imminent threats of violence and/or cannibalism. When I was writing my own thriller I thought of The Road and how it felt to be immersed in McCarthy’s world. I wanted my readers to be similarly caught up, and I wanted every moment of backstory to propel the reader forward. The scene where the father fills up the bathtub in The Road especially stayed with me.

The Road

By Cormac McCarthy,

Why should I read it?

23 authors picked The Road as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NATIONAL BESTSELLER • WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE • A searing, post-apocalyptic novel about a father and son's fight to survive, this "tale of survival and the miracle of goodness only adds to McCarthy's stature as a living master. It's gripping, frightening and, ultimately, beautiful" (San Francisco Chronicle).

A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don't know what, if…


Misery

By Stephen King,

Book cover of Misery

Why this book?

I first read this novel a long time ago, my freshman year in high school. I read it during English class, hiding Misery inside the class copy of The Catcher In the Rye during “class reading time,” because Stephen King was so much more interesting to me than J.D. Salinger. I love how trapped the main character is (the author Paul Sheldon) in Misery, and I knew that I wanted to create that same feeling with my narrator Cielo—her being trapped in a ruined neighborhood with flooding all around. King creates tension in every single scene, propelling the reader forward and that’s something I aspire to do in my trilogy.)

Misery

By Stephen King,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Misery as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the exciting build-up to publication of Stephen King's new mainstream novel, LISEY'S STORY, enjoy this world-famous classic novel on audio.


5 book lists we think you will like!

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