Review: NEED TO KNOW by Karen Cleveland (Ballantine / Doubleday / Bantam)

ClevelandK-NeedToKnowUSA fast-paced, gripping spy thriller

In pursuit of a Russian sleeper cell on American soil, CIA analyst Vivian Miller uncovers a dangerous secret that will threaten her job, her family — and her life. 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 — is 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?

This novel received a lot of pre-publication buzz. Russian sleeper cells infiltrating the CIA; movie rights sold to Universal Pictures, with Charlize Theron attached; and lots of praise from other thriller and mystery authors. All of this during a political environment characterized (in part) by Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. So, with expectations high, I’m glad to report that Need to Know exceeded my hopes. A gripping novel that I devoured in two sittings. Continue reading

Review: THE LAST ONE by Alexandra Oliva (Ballantine/Penguin)

OlivaA-TheLastOneUSReality TV collides with catastrophic reality…

She wanted an adventure. She never imagined it would go this far.

It begins with a reality TV show. Twelve contestants are sent into the woods to face challenges that will test the limits of their endurance. While they are out there, something terrible happens — but how widespread is the destruction, and has it occurred naturally or is it man-made? Cut off from society, the contestants know nothing of it. When one of them — a young woman the show’s producers call Zoo — stumbles across the devastation, she can imagine only that it is part of the game.

Alone and disoriented, Zoo is heavy with doubt regarding the life — and husband — she left behind, but she refuses to quit. Staggering countless miles across unfamiliar territory, Zoo must summon all her survival skills — and learn new ones as she goes.

But as her emotional and physical reserves dwindle, she grasps that the real world might have been altered in terrifying ways — and her ability to parse the charade will be either her triumph or her undoing.

This novel has a very interesting concept: what happens when the filming of a Survivor-type reality show coincides with an actual apocalypse? In The Last One, we follow a contestant for an expansive reality TV series as she navigates a post-apocalyptic American wilderness. Only, she thinks it’s all part of the game… Continue reading