Whether you’re seeking hard-earned wisdom from those persevering through harrowing situations, or to experience an adventure vicariously through literature, there is a veritable forest of options available for the literary thrill-seeker. Below are a few recent favorites.
David Koepp has spent most of his career writing thrilling screenplays (“Jurassic Park”) but has spent the last few years writing thrilling novels. His most recent, “Aurora” begins by informing the reader that a solar flare strong enough to fry the earth’s electrical infrastructure is expected roughly every 150 years, and that the last one happened in 1859. With that terrifying knowledge in tow, the reader accompanies a few characters through the process and aftermath of the world losing power. This page-turner primarily follows partially estranged siblings: a sister and her neighbors trying to survive a world without electricity and her billionaire prepper brother discovering that his super fancy apocalypse bunker is not all he needs to survive.
If you’re looking for a big-hearted, rip-roaring adventure stocked with likable characters, grab a ticket for Andrew J. Graff’s “Raft of Stars.” After walking in on a friend being beaten by his father, a boy shoots the abuser, and the boys flee into the woods. Their subsequent wild encounters include: a blind farmer with a gun, bears, a tornado, waterfalls and some hard-earned truths about themselves and life. They are pursued by: the shooter’s caring-but-hardened-by-war grandfather, a kindly-but-inept-in-the-wild sheriff, the shooter’s wilderness-savvy mother and a poet who works at a gas station.
If you’d prefer to take your imagination on a chillier adventure, “All the White Spaces” by Ally Wilkes is the vessel for you. After his two older brothers die in World War I before fulfilling their dream of exploring the ice, our protagonist pays tribute to them by stowing away aboard a ship bound for Antarctica. When he can no longer hide his presence on the ship, he still must hide the fact that he is a trans man. After a suspicious fire leaves the crew stranded on the ice with dwindling supplies, they search for signs of a previous expedition, but all that remains of them is their huts. Soon, the shipwrecked sailors are seeing and hearing things that draw them from the huts and into the dark icy expanse.
If exploring the depths of the ocean is more your idea of a good time, try Julia Armfield’s gorgeous and haunting “Our Wives Under the Sea.” A crew of scientists are descending to unexplored depths when they lose control of their ship. Once they are in uncharted territory, things get weird. One explorer keeps a journal of her experiences, and those entries alternate with her wife’s story. The journey is meant to take weeks, so when she returns months later, her wife is relieved and overjoyed. That joy is obliterated when it becomes clear that her spouse is now very different.
Back on less frigid, much drier, but still spooky land, we have “The Dark Between the Trees” by Fiona Barnett. This book also gooses suspense by alternating chapters, this time between English soldiers lost to the woods forever in 1643, and, nearly 400 years later, a group of academics and guides aiming to find any sign of that group. Consecutive chapters feature the groups discovering a massive tree they’d camped by has disappeared, and both times it is fun and chilling to read about, if not as chilling as the Lovecraftian horror that seems to be stalking both groups through the changing, uncanny woods.
Looking for a survival story that eschews the paranormal? Try “Small Game” by Blair Braverman. A woman signs up for a reality show survival contest. Things are going mostly fine until the television crew abandons the contestants. Left to fend for themselves, things go wrong for the contestants, but right for the reader as the book becomes impossible to put down.
Like the woods but wish they would come to you instead? Ali Shaw’s awesome and singular “The Trees” will teach you to be careful what you wish for. One day there is an astounding number of bugs coming from the ground. There is a creaking noise. Then there are trees everywhere, exploding up from the earth, destroying civilization. With their homes, families and neighbors in shambles, a small group sets to find a better place to live. They meet good people. They meet bad people. And they observe unsettling little figures made out of twigs and leaves popping up and whispering in the periphery.
Even if you’re not yet prepping for an arctic expedition, a massive solar flare or for trees to take over the world, each of these books has treasures in store for the adventurous reader.