The best desert books

2 authors have picked their favorite books about deserts and why they recommend each book.

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Michael's Wife

By Marlys Millhiser,

Book cover of Michael's Wife

So I read this book back in the late 1970s and when the title of a book that I read so long ago still floats through my mind, demanding a re-read, then that is a great suspense mystery read. Yes, as I re-read this recently, the book captures the 1970s prior to cell phones, internet, etc., but it still holds up with the twisty events of a woman haunted by a past she does not remember. You will have a challenge in trying to figure out exactly which character to believe! A young woman wakes up on the desert floor with nothing but the clothes on her back. No clue as to who she is, where she is, how she came to be there and how she can find any of the answers to those questions. So she does the only thing she can do: she walks. She finds a…

Who am I?

My passion for true crime fiction started in 2016 with the murders of eight family members in a neighboring county in Southern Ohio. The case made international news, and five years later there are still more questions than answers. I felt the victims of this heinous crime deserved some closure which the legal system has not yet provided. So, writing a fictional version of this story was my way of providing closure - at least in my own mind.

I wrote...

Murders on the Ridge: Mystery in Briar County

By Andrea Smith,

Book cover of Murders on the Ridge: Mystery in Briar County

What is my book about?

Eight bodies were found in less than four hours in Briar County, Ohio. Every significant member of a local family, their ages ranging from 16 to 44, were shot execution-style inside of four different homes not far apart. Local, Federal, and State law enforcement officers swarmed the community, interviewing more than 50 people and combing the wooded areas surrounding the crime scenes. The Ohio Attorney General said the massacre was “pre-planned” and “sophisticated.” A businessman out of Cincinnati offered a $25,000 reward to anyone with answers.

But when the answers started to come, they only raised more questions. Fingers began to point, family conflicts grew, and before this crime was solved, one more local would be found dead.

Connect the Stars

By Marisa De Los Santos, David Teague,

Book cover of Connect the Stars

This fun book includes plenty of humor and kooky characters as well as desert disasters to be overcome. I love deserts, have traveled as far as the Namib and the Sahara to enjoy them, and included a desert in my own book, so the atmosphere of this story resonated with me. And I’ve been a camp counselor, too—though not in any camp as extreme as the one in this book! The dual narratives, one by 13-year-old Audrey and one by Aaron, coordinate well together and help the reader better feel their shared experience—as well as what they learn from each other. Readers who, like me, enjoyed Holes by Louis Sachar would probably also enjoy this one.

Who am I?

I grew up playing in the woods near my home and as an adult I enjoy backpacking, scuba diving, biking, snow-shoeing, and solo travel. When I was young, most books with exciting adventure stories in nature were about boys, but I know from experience that girls can do all the same things. And whether it’s set in a fantasy world or our own, I think adventures in nature help us learn who we are and how we connect to all that’s around us. That’s why my Farwalker trilogy features a strong, resourceful girl on a walking adventure, and it’s why I love to find and share other outdoorsy heroines with young readers. 

I wrote...

The Farwalker's Quest

By Joni Sensel,

Book cover of The Farwalker's Quest

What is my book about?

Ariel has always been curious, but when she and her best friend, Zeke, stumble upon a mysterious old telling dart, she becomes obsessed with figuring out what it means. Magically flying great distances and only revealing their messages to the intended recipient, telling darts haven't been used for years, and no one knows how they work. So when two strangers show up looking for the dart, Ariel and Zeke realize that their discovery is not only interesting, but very dangerous. The telling dart, and the strangers, lead them to a journey more perilous and encompassing than either can imagine, and in the process both Zeke and Ariel find their true calling.

The Immeasurable World

By William Atkins,

Book cover of The Immeasurable World: Journeys in Desert Places

Long fascinated by the accounts of travellers drawn to the world’s arid zones, as if by a strange magnetism, William Atkins immerses himself in deserts from Oman to Australia, Kazakhstan to the United States. The book is both a study of extreme environments and a deeply personal journey that often touches on the political: the Australian chapter becomes an excoriating attack on the British government’s use of the desert as a nuclear testing ground, which devastated Aboriginal communities. There are also some extremely funny parts, as when Atkins ends up in the debauchery of Nevada’s Burning Man festival, surely the most reluctant and awkward festival-goer who has ever graced its playa.

Who am I?

Nick Hunt is a walker and writer about the landscapes and cultures of Europe. He is the author of Walking the Woods and the Water, Where the Wild Winds Are (both finalists for the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year), and a work of gonzo ornithology, The Parakeeting of London. His latest book, Outlandish, is an exploration of four of the continent’s strangest and most unlikely landscapes: arctic tundra in Scotland, primeval forest in Poland and Belarus, Europe’s only true desert in Spain, and the grassland steppes of Hungary.

I wrote...

Outlandish: Walking Europe’s Unlikely Landscapes

By Nick Hunt,

Book cover of Outlandish: Walking Europe’s Unlikely Landscapes

What is my book about?

In Outlandish, acclaimed travel writer Nick Hunt takes us across landscapes that should not be there, wildernesses found in Europe yet seemingly belonging to far-off continents: a patch of Arctic tundra in Scotland; the continent's largest surviving remnant of primeval forest in Poland and Belarus; Europe's only true desert in Spain; and the fathomless grassland steppes of Hungary.

Across the Empty Quarter

By Wilfrid Thesiger,

Book cover of Across the Empty Quarter

Thesiger was a British military officer, explorer, and writer, who, in the second half of the 20th century, traveled on foot, horse, and by camel across Arabia, the Middle East, and Africa. Rub' al Khali, the Empty Quarter, is the largest sand desert in the world, a desolate, dangerous plane of rolling dunes, with a very limited number of waterholes. At the time of Thesiger’s travels in the late 1940s, this desert had been traveled exclusively by the local Bedu. What makes this book intriguing is the description of the harsh landscape and the people that live in it. Thesiger traveled the desert with a purpose (he wanted to find out more about a locust with some ecological relevance), so he and his guides voyaged huge distances. As the reader turns the pages, the overwhelming sense of adventure and Thesiger’s lust for the unknown become contagious. Many books have…

Who am I?

Clemens P. Suter is an author of adventure novels. His books deal with people that overcome impossible, life-changing situations. These are entertaining adventure books, with dystopian, post-apocalyptic, and Scifi elements.

I wrote...


By Clemens P. Suter,

Book cover of Rebound

What is my book about?

Together with his three dogs, Alan, the adventurer travels the lonely roads of Armageddon. A deadly pandemic has caused a societal collapse after billions have died. He is soon joined by Imani, a young woman, and a victim of gang violence. Together they set out to discover the truth about the cause of the catastrophe. During their travels from San Francisco to the European Alps, they soon discover a danger that could wipe out the final remnants of humanity. In a world ruled by anarchy, with the last humans fighting for control, Alan’s and Imani’s chances of success or even survival look bleak. Can they save humankind from ultimate disaster?

Devils Unto Dust

By Emma Berquist,

Book cover of Devils Unto Dust

This book fills the wilds of Texas with a plague of zombie-like “shakes,” and somehow they are all the scarier for being more of a backdrop than the core of the story. The desert setting is almost a character itself, and it practically shimmers with menace. Between the haunting sense of place and time and the galloping pace of the action, I gobbled down this book in one sitting.

Who am I?

I’ve been terrified, fascinated, and delighted by scary stories my whole life, and my very favorites dabble in the speculative and supernatural: ghosts, monsters, magic, and worlds beyond our own. Give me all your haunted houses, your warped realities, your inexplicable horrors intruding on the everyday world. These fantastical elements are fraught with the power of nightmares and fairy tales, and that makes them the best tools we have to get around our news-hardened, cynical safeguards and explore what truly frightens us.

I wrote...

Here There Are Monsters

By Amelinda Bérubé,

Book cover of Here There Are Monsters

What is my book about?

Sixteen-year-old Skye is done playing the knight in shining armor for her insufferable younger sister, Deirdre. And moving across the country seems like the perfect chance to start over as someone different. In their isolated new neighborhood, Skye manages to fit in, but Deirdre withdraws from everyone, becoming fixated on the swampy woods behind their house and building monstrous sculptures out of sticks and bones. Then Deirdre disappears. 

And when something awful comes scratching at Skye's window in the middle of the night, claiming Skye's the only one who can save Deirdre, Skye knows she will stop at nothing to bring her sister home.

The Man From the Cave

By Colin Fletcher,

Book cover of The Man From the Cave

Mysteries also are a part of historical true crime, including people who were (or still are) missing and/or those who lived under changed identities. In the Nevada desert in 1968, Fletcher literally bumped into a trunk filled with decades-old possessions. Whose were they? Fletcher then documented his own investigation as he managed to find newspaper articles and National Archive records to piece together an old prospector's life. Armchair sleuths and others who are proficient in searching the internet today will find this book is a real eye-opener, as it shows what it was like to reconstruct a person's hidden life, without even getting online. For Fletcher, the process evolved a bonus –– a spiritual adventure of his own.

Who am I?

Years ago, I stumbled upon the gravestone of an unidentified murder victim from 1954. Then I entered into a partnership with my local sheriff and with forensic experts to successfully determine the young woman's identity. At the time, I was (and still am) a historical researcher, newspaper columnist, and author. The Jane Doe case, however, gave me the opportunity and insight to investigate and research the young woman's murder, allowing me to dig into the context of the times. Now, as a researcher and writer of historical true crime, I've found a niche, allowing me to combine my investigative skills and interests with a deep passion for the past.

I wrote...

Cold Case Chronicles: Mysteries, Murders & the Missing

By Silvia Pettem,

Book cover of Cold Case Chronicles: Mysteries, Murders & the Missing

What is my book about?

Cold Case Chronicles tells the stories of victims – some missing, some murdered, and some with changed identities. All are true, and each are mysterious in their own ways. The cases in this nonfiction narrative date from 1910 through the 1950s and include evolutions in forensics, as well as the historical context in order to view the men, women, and children through the lens of time. 

Included are recent theories on the cases of Judge Joseph Crater and film director William Desmond Taylor. Other chapters help to unravel the mystique of individuals with changed identities, along with a case of aerial sabotage, the "Boy in the Box," and the disappearances of four adventurers –– Everett Ruess, Joseph Halpern, and Glen and Bessie Hyde. Readers are encouraged to draw their own conclusions, consider how detectives would handle these and other cases today, and learn how genetic genealogy brings new hope for the future.

Odd Thomas

By Dean Koontz,

Book cover of Odd Thomas

I stumbled across the movie version of Odd Thomas a few years after I wrote Restless Spirits, and while I was in the middle of writing the follow-up books in that series, and I was immediately struck by the similarities. So much so that I tracked down the book and quickly devoured it. Like my protagonist Chris Wilson, Odd Thomas has the unfortunate ability to see ghosts, and is frequently haunted by those in need of his assistance, which tends to interfere in his personal life in ways that live up to his unusual first name. Besides being packed with the sorts of chilling moments you’d expect from Dean Koontz, it also features a hauntingly beautiful love story that’s sure to leave you in tears.

Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated with ghost stories since I was a kindergartener hiding in the closet with a flashlight, swapping scares with my friends. To this day I don’t walk into a bathroom without turning the light on first, just in case Bloody Mary is lurking in there with any ideas. Add in a love of reading spurred on by early exposure to a copy of Jane Eyre and the discovery of my mom’s secret stash of gothic romance novels. I love a good romance as much as I love a good scare, and when you combine the two… well, you pretty much had me at hello.

I wrote...

Restless Spirits

By Jean Marie Bauhaus,

Book cover of Restless Spirits

What is my book about?

Veronica “Ron” Wilson has her whole life behind her. At least, that’s what she comes to realize soon after waking up in the mysterious house she had come to investigate. A paranormal investigator by trade, Ron now finds herself investigating her own death with the help of a handful of helpful friendly ghosts -- and one who’s just a pain in the rear-end. Unfortunately, being dead doesn’t keep Ron from noticing that he also possesses quite the nice rear-end or from tingling in ways that almost make her feel alive whenever he’s near…. As if unwanted afterlife crushes weren’t bad enough, Ron soon discovers that she and her fellow ghosts aren’t the house’s only inhabitants.

Shielding Sierra

By Susan Stoker,

Book cover of Shielding Sierra

Stoker is the queen of military/former-military “families.” You pick up a book and instantly fall in love with that team of men. Shielding Sierra is her latest (as of January 2022) and it happens to be at the end of a series. Stoker writes in a single universe, so while we know this team, we also see previous teams she’s written, and the family unit that they all build with one another really shines in Sierra, when one of their own purposely becomes a POW in order to save the heroine.

Who am I?

I hate saying goodbye. Picking up a book and being introduced to an entire group of people—family, friends, teammates—and knowing you get to continue to watch these relationships bloom over a course of books is part of the reason I pick up a book in the first place. I want to see these characters pop in twenty books down the road. I absolutely love cameos of old characters! Because of this, I write in a singular world as well. My Prescotts may be the base of the world at the moment, but it’s also their friends at O’Gallaghers and their teammates with the Enforcers hockey team that keep the world growing—and it’s not ending anytime soon.

I wrote...

Butterfly Save (Prescott Brothers)

By Mignon Mykel,

Book cover of Butterfly Save (Prescott Brothers)

What is my book about?

The first to get married, the only to get divorced… Jonny Prescott is the “broken” brother. 

After his surprise retirement announcement, hockey goaltender Jonny Prescott decides to hide away in the Northern Wisconsin woods—away from everything and everyone. No limelight. Little recognition. The last thing he expects is to be drawn to his equally isolated neighbor. Summer is far too young to be so jaded, but Jonny can’t help but want to break this butterfly free.

G. Patrol

By Michael Crichton- Stuart,

Book cover of G. Patrol

One aspect of this book which appeals is that whilst most of the LRDG Patrols were drawn from the New Zealanders, South Africans & Rhodesians, whose civvy lives in the outdoors naturally fitted them for the rigours of desert warfare and who embodied a fair level of independence of spirt, the Guards represent the very epitome of elitism, spit & polish and rigid hierarchies that you’d expect of the most conventional of conventional forces. Yet they achieved great success within the altogether unconventional ranks of LRDG.

Who am I?

I am a successful published author of military history nonfiction and fiction with 44 titles in print and have been a lifelong obsessive on the subject of WWII which was my parents’ war. I started on a diet of black & white war movies, then epics such as Tobruk, Raid on Rommel et al. I have been lecturing on the subject at the former Centre for Lifelong Learning at Newcastle University (Now the ‘Explore’ Programme) for 25 years. I am also an experienced and much travelled WWII Battlefield tour guide, with experience of guiding all the major Western Front campaigns. I’m a lifelong historical interpreter and re-enactor.

I wrote...

Blitzing Rommel

By John Sadler,

Book cover of Blitzing Rommel

What is my book about?

For Joe Milburn, Geordie to the core and son of a tenant farmer, war presents an intoxicating mix of terror, tragedy, bloodshed, adrenalin, and opportunity.

As his wartime exploits earn him admiration and respect, he begins to mix in circles very different from those he grew up in – and to take part in military operations that go not only beyond his own previous experience, but beyond the expectations of the most practised of soldiers. When Joe finds himself in North Africa he discovers, among all the loss, love, in the flawless form of Nurse Alice Fleming. Yet as he makes plans for a safer future, one more challenge calls. What else can a man expect when he keeps company with the newly-born SAS?

No Beauties or Monsters

By Tara Goedjen,

Book cover of No Beauties or Monsters

Read this if you devour mysteries served with a side of science fiction. The main character, Rylie, moves back to Twentynine Palms in her grandfather’s old house in the Mojave Desert. Weird things are happening. Then Rylie finds out that her childhood best friend’s sister disappeared and her grandfather may be involved. Rylie keeps losing time. Who is the bad guy?? Nobody knows. Is it the grandfather? The guy on the news? The government Rylie’s mom works for? Her new stepbrother who may be too helpful? Her childhood bestie? Rylie herself? I couldn’t put this one down!

Who am I?

I grew up reading Nancy Drew books creekside in an Alabama swamp and developed a deep adoration of mysteries with atmospheric, creepy settings. I love the idea of strong female protagonists who take matters into their own hands and don’t sit idly by, so not only do I read books that have them as main characters, but I write them too. In addition to writing, I’m lucky enough to be a kidlit haint at a haunted indie bookshop, so reading and recommending the books I enjoy is literally my job!

I wrote...

The Existence of Bea Pearl

By Candice Marley Conner,

Book cover of The Existence of Bea Pearl

What is my book about?

If her brother could stop existing, could she too?

Sixteen-year-old Bea Pearl knows her brother isn’t dead—even if her parents don’t agree. Even if the entire town doesn’t believe her. She knows it’s true. When orders came to evacuate Lake George, Alabama due to rising floodwaters, Bea Pearl saw Jim head toward the river. She followed him. Only she returned. 

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