Monday, January 22, 2018

Book Review: Need To Know by Karen Cleveland

Author: Karen Cleveland
Series: N/A
Audience: +18
Genre: Mystery & Thrillers
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Release Date: January 23rd 2018
My Rating: 4 Cups
Source: Netgalley
Blurb (from Goodreads):
In pursuit of a Russian sleeper cell on American soil, a CIA analyst uncovers a dangerous secret that will test her loyalty to the agency—and to her family.

What do you do when everything you trust might be a lie?

Vivian Miller is a dedicated CIA counterintelligence analyst assigned to uncover the leaders of Russian sleeper cells in the United States. On track for a much-needed promotion, she’s developed a system for identifying Russian agents, seemingly normal people living in plain sight.

After accessing the computer of a potential Russian operative, Vivian stumbles on a secret dossier of deep-cover agents within America’s borders. A few clicks later, everything that matters to her—her job, her husband, even her four children—are threatened.

Vivian has vowed to defend her country against all enemies, foreign and domestic. But now she’s facing impossible choices. Torn between loyalty and betrayal, allegiance and treason, love and suspicion, who can she trust?
*Disclaimer: I received an eARC from Netgalley and Penguin Random House in exchange for an honest review. This does not influence my rating or the content of my review in any way.

I've always been fascinated by spy movies and TV shows. I don't exactly know why, but there's something thrilling in watching seemingly regular people outsmart others, get information using mind games and basically kicking ass. So when I read the blurb for Need To Know, I knew I needed to read this book.

The story focuses on Vivian, a CIA analyst that discovers her husband is a Russian sleeper spy, and her struggle with defending her children and doing her job. Along the way, we also discover how she and Matt, her husband, met and how their relationship started, basically, and what their lives have been like up until she discovers his secret. The part that I loved most was how Cleveland used the past to explain the present. There were a few moments throughout the book where something that happened in the present time was better explained by exploring a similar or a connected scene from the past, and I thought that was very unique and interesting.

I also liked the mind game aspect of this book. At first I was a bit disappointed by some of Vivian's actions, but the more I think about them, the more I wonder if Matt played some reverse psychology/mind games with her to make her act the way she did. Like everything else she did after they got married, even her actions in the present seem guided by her husband and her fear of losing him. I enjoyed the aspect of not knowing if she was really clear-headed and if she truly wanted to do what she did, or if her actions were being influenced in any subliminal way.

The pacing of the story is really good. The story seems to flow, and it really caught me, enough for me to read it pretty fast. The flashbacks also added to the pacing, because it helped me take a little bit of a break from the tension of the present timeline without taking me out of the story, which I really enjoyed. Although the story is more focused on the inner turmoil of Vivian, I still got a thrill from the moments in which she or one her children was in danger. There were a few things that happened in the book that were very close to Finagle's Law, which I kind of liked, because it's been a while since I last read a book where basically everything goes wrong at the wrong time, and not in a funny way, but in a very dramatic, "are you joking" way. There were also a few improbable things that happened, but Cleveland finds a way to explain why those things are happening, even if it's in a very subtle way, which I liked.

I also liked the ending. It was surprising, really, but I like how the key to understanding the ending is in the book, you just have to pay attention to the small details. And I like how Cleveland managed to sneak that in there, how I actually had to think a bit about it before I had my "Ah-hah" moment. The ending also plays with your mind a little bit, because it is left open in a way. And I did not expect that, at all. If this were a movie, I'd probably see this last scene being showed after the credits, to be honest. So I liked that.

The thing that bothered me a little bit was how extremely naive Vivian was at some point. As a psychologist, I do understand how mind games work, and how you can trick someone into doing whatever it is you want, and I said I loved that part of the story and it is true. But what I didn't enjoy that much was what came afterwards. After Vivian makes her discoveries, after everything blows up and she goes from a small issue to a major problem, when all is said and done, I didn't agree with her final decision. Maybe it's because I'm pretty black-and-white when it comes to betrayal, but I didn't understand her forgive-and-forget attitude. I expected a different outcome, and her actions and some of what she discovered led me to believe she'd make different choices in the end.

All in all, this was a pretty interesting book, and I really enjoyed reading it.


  1. Oh, I like spy books too although it's been a long time since I last read one that was mainly focused on a spy (and not just a subplot or episodic character).

    And I know what you mean about characters being too naive sometimes - especially if they also have scenes when they are not naive!

    * Cheeky Lines *

  2. It sounds like you really enjoyed this story a lot and the actual plotline, but like Vivan's character and mannerisms kind of annoyed you from time to time. Such a shame :/


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