The best books to read during a fierce, possibly city-destroying storm

Who am I?

I’m a crime and horror author based in New York City. I’ve lived through a couple of direct hits from mega-storms and other natural disasters, including Hurricane Sandy, which plowed through my neighborhood in 2012. Those kinds of experiences leave a psychological mark I’ve tried to process through both fiction and non-fiction. This writing has also allowed me to explore how people and cities could potentially survive the calamities that await us, especially in coastal regions vulnerable to climate change.  

I wrote...

Hell of a Mess

By Nick Kolakowski,

Book cover of Hell of a Mess

What is my book about?

The heist should have been a simple one: infiltrate the top floor of a New York City penthouse, steal a server with compromising data from under the noses of the unsuspecting guards, and slip back out. Fiona, master thief, has pulled off similar jobs. But with a massive hurricane bearing down on the East Coast, the timing is tight and the escape routes are limited—and that’s before she discovers something horrific in the penthouse.

Now Fiona’s on the run, trying to stay one step ahead of the floodwaters and hired assassins. Her husband Bill, the finest hustler between Florida and Maine, can’t help her: he’s been kidnapped by a group of dirty cops who want the secret millions left by his former employer.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea

Nick Kolakowski Why did I love this book?

This is one of the nonfiction books I read as a teenager that convinced me to become a professional writer. The author, Sebastian Junger, doesn’t just describe the titular storm (which hit the U.S. East Coast in 1991) in terrifying detail—he also manages to assemble all of the weather-driven chaos into a real, gripping narrative. We don’t know a lot about what actually happened to the Andrea Gail, the fishing boat at the center of the narrative, but Junger recreates its final hours in a way that feels bracingly real—and heartbreaking.

Even if you don’t like nonfiction books, The Perfect Storm has the pacing and heart of a novel. I consider it one of the finest—maybe the finest—disaster narrative ever written, and it’s a perfect choice of book if you’re trapped inside by a raging storm.

By Sebastian Junger,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

It was the storm of the century, boasting waves over one hundred feet high-a tempest created by so rare a combination of factors that meteorologists deemed it "the perfect storm." In a book that has become a classic, Sebastian Junger explores the history of the fishing industry, the science of storms, and the candid accounts of the people whose lives the storm touched. The Perfect Storm is a real-life thriller that makes us feel like we've been caught, helpless, in the grip of a force of nature beyond our understanding or control.

Winner of the American Library Association's 1998 Alex…

Book cover of The Drowned World

Nick Kolakowski Why did I love this book?

There’s no storm in J.G. Ballard’s masterpiece of post-apocalyptic fiction, just the aftermath. This was another book that I read at a highly impressionable age and return to every so often, especially when I’m writing something disaster-related. It takes place in a London flooded by climate change: a science team is dispatched to the feverish swamp that was once a great city, where they’re confronted by pirates and other dangers.

It always blows my mind that Ballard wrote the book in 1962, well before the current debate over the climate. The thrilling set-pieces aside, it’s also a chilling reminder of how nature can still topple even the mightiest cities.

By J.G. Ballard,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A debut novel, set in London in the near future. The capital city has been flooded and transformed into a tropical location where social aberrations only serve as an indicator of the level of corruption of the modern mentality.

Book cover of Dead Astronauts

Nick Kolakowski Why did I love this book?

And now for something completely different: this novel takes place in a world already ravaged by disaster. Not all of this book’s protagonists are human—there’s a blue fox lurking around with a mysterious purpose, and even the people have been… enhanced, let’s say. The narration is surreal and mythic and almost abstract at moments.

Dead Astronauts won’t be everyone’s proverbial cup of tea. But if you’re riding out a storm (either internal or external), this one can perhaps serve as an excellent tone poem to see you through, one filled with some truly mind-bending ideas and characters. This is one of the books that helped center me during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic when we were all locked inside.

By Jeff VanderMeer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dead Astronauts as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Under the watchful eye of The Company, three characters - Grayson, Morse and Chen - shapeshifters, amorphous, part human, part extensions of the landscape, make their way through forces that would consume them. A blue fox, a giant fish and language stretched to the limit.

A messianic blue fox who slips through warrens of time and space on a mysterious mission. A homeless woman haunted by a demon who finds the key to all things in a strange journal. A giant leviathan of a fish, centuries old, who hides a secret, remembering a past that may not be its own.…

Book cover of Shutter Island

Nick Kolakowski Why did I love this book?

Dennis Lehane is another author who inspired me to become a writer (specifically, a crime-fiction author), and this book is one of his best. Two U.S. marshals are sent to investigate the disappearance of a woman from a hospital for the criminally insane on the titular island. A storm is bearing down, complicating the investigation, and in the grand thriller tradition, nothing is as it seems…

Shutter Island is one of those complex, pulpy thrillers where all the twists are genuinely earned. It’s a master class in how to flip the audience’s expectations, even experienced thriller fans who think they know what’s coming.

By Dennis Lehane,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Shutter Island as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The basis for the blockbuster motion picture directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Shutter Island by New York Times bestselling author Dennis Lehane is a gripping and atmospheric psychological thriller where nothing is quite what it seems. The New York Times calls Shutter Island, “Startlingly original.” The Washington Post raves, “Brilliantly conceived and executed.” A masterwork of suspense and surprise from the author of Mystic River and Gone, Baby, Gone, Shutter Island carries the reader into a nightmare world of madness, mind control, and CIA Cold War paranoia andis unlike anything you’ve ever read before.

Book cover of The Two-Bear Mambo

Nick Kolakowski Why did I love this book?

Whenever someone asks me to recommend a funny mystery/thriller series, I always do my best to steer them toward Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard series. Hap Collins is a wisecracking good ol’ boy with liberal leanings, while his best friend Leonard is a Black, gay, conservative war veteran. They bumble and punch their way through mysteries that usually involve long-buried, lethal secrets.

The Two-Bear Mambo is arguably the most cinematic of the Hap and Leonard books, and that’s because the two are searching a small Texas town for Hap’s ex-girlfriend—a town at risk of serious flooding. The climactic fight in a graveyard is an over-the-top melee of rushing water, bones, and death. Solving mysteries is even harder when you have to prevent yourself from drowning in the biggest natural disaster to hit Texas in years. 

By Joe R. Lansdale,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Two-Bear Mambo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Florida Grange, Leonard's gorgeous lawyer and Hap's former lover, has vanished while in pursuit of the real story behind the jailhouse death of a bluesman's son. Hap and Leonard investigate and end up in a part of East Texas that has Klan wannabes, an exhumation in a voodoo graveyard, and murder.

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Dinner with Churchill

By Robin Hawdon,

Book cover of Dinner with Churchill

Robin Hawdon Author Of Number Ten

New book alert!

Who am I?

My writing is eclectic and covers many topics. However, all my books tend to have a thriller element to them. Perhaps it's my career as an actor and playwright which has instilled the need to create suspense in all my writings. I sometimes feel that distinguished authors can get so carried away with their literary descriptions and philosophical insights that they forget to keep the story going! It is the need to know what happens next that keeps the reader turning the pages. Perhaps in achieving that some subtlety has to be sacrificed, but, hey, you don't read a political thriller to study the philosophical problems of governing nations!

Robin's book list on lone heroes and threats to national security

What is my book about?

This is a new novel by one of the UK's most prolific writers. It is based around an extraordinary true incident at the start of World War II when fierce political opponents Winston Churchill and Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain encountered each other at a famous dinner party. Seen from the perspective of Lucy Armitage, a young girl suddenly conscripted by a strange stroke of fate into Churchill's overworked but adoring team of secretaries.

As Churchill prepares to take over the leadership of the nation, Lucy finds herself increasingly involved in her famous employer's phenomenal work output and eccentric habits. When romance and the world of espionage impinge on her life, she becomes a vital part of the eternal struggle between good and evil regimes that still exists today.

Dinner with Churchill

By Robin Hawdon,

What is this book about?

It is on historical record that, on the evening of October 13th 1939, six weeks after war had been declared on Hitler's Germany, Winston Churchill and Neville Chamberlain, fierce and implacable opponents for years over the appeasement issue, met together with their two wives, Clementine and Anne, for a private dinner at Admiralty House, and event which caused ripples throughout Westminster.

Chamberlain was still Prime Minister, but had seen all his efforts to negotiate peace with Hitler shattered. Churchill had been recalled to the cabinet after ten years 'in the wilderness', his dire warnings of the Nazi threat vindicated.


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