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Need to Know

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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?

306 pages, Kindle Edition

First published January 23, 2018

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About the author

Karen Cleveland

5 books1,533 followers
Karen Cleveland spent eight years as a CIA analyst, the last six in counterterrorism. She has master’s degrees from Trinity College Dublin, where she studied as a Fulbright Scholar, and from Harvard University. She lives in northern Virginia with her husband and two young kids.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,270 reviews
Profile Image for Maureen .
1,326 reviews7,103 followers
December 22, 2017
* Thank you to Random House UK for my 'wish for it copy' for which I have given an honest review in exchange*

Vivian Miller is a CIA counterintelligence analyst - she's good at what she does, and has developed an algorithm which will enable her department to identify Russian sleepers ( seemingly ordinary people leading everyday lives ), however, their lives are lived within the United States, and they are naturally a threat to national security. When Vivian manages to access the computer of a Russian operative, it should be cause for celebration, but the discovery will threaten everything that she holds dear, and will put not only her own life in danger, but also those of her husband and four children!

Wow! Just wow! What a brilliant, nerve jangling, tension filled read this was! How easy it was for Vivian's life to turn completely upside down with just a couple of clicks on her computer. I don't want to give anything away with this one, as it's taken me on a journey that deserves to be experienced by each and every one of you readers in your own individual way, and I'd hate to spoil that journey for you. Just be prepared to share in Vivian's sheer terror as events increasingly overtake her life. And that ending! Well, it just floored me, took me completely by surprise. Do yourself a favour and don't miss out on this one - fantastic!
Profile Image for Berit Talks Books.
2,011 reviews15.7k followers
January 16, 2018
4.5 you NEED TO READ it STARS🌟🌟🌟🌟.5

A thrilling breath of fresh air! Just like many of you I am a thriller junkie.... and with the market so saturated with so many thrillers, this book stands apart and strong!

Vivian is a CIA operative focusing on Russia and in particular finding sleeper cells..... but even more importantly she is a mother of four young children..... so when a few clicks of the computer leads to putting her family in jeopardy... you definitely see Vivian’s mama bear come out..... Vivian and I probably have very little in common however we are both mothers and I could just relate so well to her need to protect her children at all costs.....

Truthfully when I first read the blurb to this book I wasn’t all that interested, just The idea of the CIA was a turn off..... fortunately I read some very favorable reviews from people that I trust the opinions of and decided I’d take a chance on this book..... I am so grateful that I did! This is a thriller with all those twists and turns that we all love, but with a brand new fresh approach.... I even found the spy stuff super intriguing and very authentic.....

I believe the plan is to turn this book into a movie? And if so I think it will make a fantastic movie..... very fast-paced, action-packed, definitely kept me on pins and needles......

Strongly recommend this! I realize I didn’t say much about the plot, but I want you to enjoy the journey as much as I did!

PS: DasVindaniya.... pardon me if my Russian is incorrect, but this is my way of giving major props to the stellar epilog of this book! And doesn’t that sound prettier than goodbye? Seriously say it out loud!

*** i’d like to thank Net Galley and the publishers for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review ***
March 4, 2018
5 stars! Wow – I simply devoured this book! I felt like I was holding my breath the entire time waiting to see what would happen in the next sentence, paragraph, page, chapter….

This was a gripping, twisty, completely addictive, edge-of-your-seat thriller! I was drawn right into this story from page 1. I am blown away that this is a debut novel! My initial thought was to give a 4.5 rating due to a few slightly impractical details, but the book was just SO good that I can’t give this anything less than 5 stars! And that ending!!! Wowza - loved it!

I’ll keep this review short and simply advise you to get your hands on a copy of this novel ASAP! (I feel really bad for the next book that I pick up….how will it ever compare?)
Profile Image for Skyler Autumn.
225 reviews1,392 followers
May 6, 2020
2 Stars

Need to Know, revolves around our naive but also idiotic CIA counterterrorism analyst Vivian and her family of a billion kids and her shady ass husband Matt. The novel starts out quickly as Vivian is attempting to break into a laptop that holds the identity of Russian sleeper agents and low and behold whose picture appears, that's right her oh so perfect but bossy ass husband Tom (This is not a spoiler it happens in chapter 2 and the entire novel is about this premise so put the pitchforks away). The entire novel then becomes about Vivian analyzing her entire relationship with her husband cue the many love-y dove-y flashbacks and then deciding the best way to deal with this problem is to just delete it and then empty the trash. The same thing I accidentally did with a very important midterm paper in University and I managed to recover it so one would hope that the CIA doesn’t have the same intelligence level of an idiotic 19-year old that had one too many creamsicle coolers that night. But here we are.

So right out the gate I do not like Vivian she is already proven to be a right moron and it's not the hiding of classified documents I dislike, I know a lot of reviewers are like; who would do that? Who would betray their country for their family? I'm like, seriously? ME! Without a shadow of a doubt, I would choose my family over everyone every single time. NO MATTER WHAT! So the fact that she becomes a betrayer of her nation is not what I find idiotic. My problem is if you are going to betray everything you worked for and vowed to protect at least do it properly. She spends about 80% of this book running to her husband with HELP me eyes whispering problems to him and waiting for him to save her. I thought this novel was going to be like Stillhouse Lake, or be like Sarah Conner from the second Terminator movie or that spy movie with Angelina Jolie what was it called Salt. I wanted her to become a Mama bear protecting her family at all costs instead she just walked around confused and terrified and expecting her ENEMY SPY husband to fix everything. Pretty big betrayal lady, you got over that mighty quickly.

I just felt Vivian was a very weak character and her self-awareness of her weakness halfway through this novel didn't improve her situation. It's like being aware you suck and then not changing or evolving isn't really helpful; this entire book was just me wishing Vivian was real so I could slap her. The flashbacks showed a woman frightened to contradict her husband, and then this momentous thing happens and you expect to see this evolution of a woman no longer letting this man in her life control her or save her... BUT NOPE! Vivian sucks through and through from chapter one to the final chapter this woman will continue to disappoint and inevitably so will this read. I know I've gone on and on about the protagonist but the story is very weak and all you truly have to follow is the protagonist and her reaction to devasting circumstances. So, all and all, if you want to read a thriller with a brilliant female lead that isn't a miserable excuse for a woman may I suggest Stillhouse Lake by Rachel Caine.
Profile Image for Tammy.
505 reviews422 followers
January 22, 2018
I really didn’t need to know about this book. While I didn’t hate it, I certainly didn’t love it. And, it’s not just that CIA counterintelligence analysts and Russian sleeper cells aren’t my usual fare. At the end of the first chapter I thought, “now we’re cooking with oil” but it just didn’t pan out for me. Based on the reviews I had read I was hoping Need to Know would be as exciting and surprising as the first season of The Showtime series Homeland. Unfortunately, it was predictable so I’m going to classify this book as Homeland lite.
Profile Image for Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader.
2,084 reviews30.1k followers
January 14, 2018
5 stars - Not just “Need to Know” but also “Need to READ” 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟

Need to Know came highly recommended from several of my Goodreads friends. I read the blurb and wasn’t sure. To be honest, it sounded a little dry, based on my typical reading preferences, but this is not my typical genre. That said, I trusted my friends. Wow, were they ever right!

I thought several times while I was reading that the CIA angle felt authentic, and when I looked up the author’s bio, it clicked. She had been a CIA analyst! I also think this went beyond the typical spy story because Need to Know was family-driven. Vivian and Matt’s children were adorable and very much in the forefront of the story.

I’m walking a tightrope on what I want to tell you so I don’t spoil anything. I will say I was on the edge of my seat and completely paranoid worrying about what would happen to this family! Who was trustworthy? The suspense builds and builds, and I was reading chapters in that “oh just one more” way that we avid readers do. There was such an intricately woven web in this story that I second guessed myself throughout.

Even if you don’t typically enjoy spy or political thrillers, this is a fantastic read! I flew through the pages and wish I could do it all over again! Well-done, Karen Cleveland! I’m hoping there was enough of an opening that there’s room for a sequel or even a series. I loved Vivian as a strong female character and would love to see more from her!

Huge thanks to Karen Cleveland, Random House Ballantine, and Netgalley for the complimentary ARC.

Need to Know will be released on January 23, 2018.
Profile Image for Holly  B (busy month catching up).
799 reviews1,805 followers
August 17, 2019

The illusion of a cheerful home is about to hit a major speed bump! This edge of your seat spy thriller is so addictive with the full steam plot, it kept me up all night reading!

I love that this spy thriller isn't bogged down with too much analyst mumbo jumbo. You can just enjoy the page turning without having to decipher unfamiliar lingo, but offers enough details to tell an authentic, believable story.

Vivian is a CIA counterintelligence analyst, but also a wife and mom to four young children. Her husband, Matt works from home at his flexible IT position and he loves helping out with the kids. Vivian and her team are hard at work trying to bring down some suspected Russian sleeper agents planted in the U.S.

Vivian is excellent at her job and what she sees on her laptop when she clicks on a secret file of a Russian agent she is investigating takes her breath away! What is she looking at? Who is she seeing? No, this can't be? The story takes off and doesn't stop until the last word which took my breath away.

Loved this novel, loved the pacing and suspenseful twists. I read this straight through and really look forward to the author's next book. This is a her debut.

Thanks to Netgalley and Random House Publishing Group Ballantine for my ARC
Releases Jan.23, 2017

Review will also post on my blog https://dressedtoread.com/
Profile Image for Mary Beth .
380 reviews1,614 followers
February 16, 2018
4.5 stars

Vivian Miller is a Counter Intelligence analyst for the CIA. She has four children and a husband. She is on a project where she under covers sleeper cells.

Vivian uses someone else's computer and finds a picture that she isn't suppose to see. She is shocked. What she sees turns her life and her family in danger.

What do you do when everything you trust might be a lie? Everything that matters to Vivian, her job, her family are threatened.
Who can she trust? Her life has changed into a nightmare. This story is filled with so many secrets, lies and betrayals. Her life is torn apart, she tries to do her best for her family and her country. You can just feel her stress. She is facing impossible choices.

This is one heck of a spy thriller. I usually do not like spy thrillers, but this one is so different than others. This kept me turning the pages. I had to find out what happened next. It kept me guessing. It was an addictive read.

I found this to be very realistic and very intense. It was very entertaining. It was a very fast paced read. I kept on wanting more. I just couldn't put it down. The author used to be a CIA Analyst and I think that is why this book felt so realistic. It has a very unique plot.

This was quite a thrill ride and kept me on the edge of my seat. I loved the writing style. The chapters were short. All of the characters were done so well. It had some great twists and turns. Lots of jaw dropping moments that just blew my mind. If you are like me and don't like spy thrillers, don't let this stop you, because this one is so different and easy to understand. The suspense keeps on coming, straight from the beginning until the very end.
I highly recommend this.

I want to thank Netgalley, Random House, and the author for the copy of this book in exchange for a honest review.
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,481 reviews29.4k followers
March 22, 2018

4.5 stars, rounded up.

Wow, this was so good!

If you're looking for a suspenseful thriller that will keep you guessing, one that seems tailor-made for the movies, look no further and pick up Karen Cleveland's Need to Know. (In fact, the film rights have already been sold to Universal Pictures for Charlize Theron.)

Vivian Miller has the perfect life—a handsome, supportive husband, a challenging job as a CIA analyst, and four beautiful kids. Sure, with her career moving at breakneck speed she's not at home as often as she'd like, so she's missing key moments in her children's lives, but she's doing important work that impacts the country, as she tries to track down a Russian sleeper cell here in the U.S. It's what she has been working for, and success means a big promotion.

One day, in the midst of some surveillance on the laptop of someone believed to be a handler of Russian spies, she makes a discovery that takes her breath away and turns everything upside down. For someone who has always been so sure of what her next steps are, she suddenly feels completely out of control, and doesn't know where to turn. But the one thing she does know is she must protect her children, her family, and the life she has known—no matter what the cost.

It seems like whatever decision Vivian makes is the wrong one, and it plunges her deeper and deeper into a situation with serious ramifications. She knows, however, that she is stronger than everyone thinks she is, and she tries to search for a way to turn her situation around. But whom should she trust? How will she know if believing in someone will be her downfall, and possibly cost her her family, her future?

I'm being somewhat vague because even though you can guess some of what will happen in this book, there still are a lot of twists and turns I didn't see coming. From nearly the very first page, Cleveland revs the engine of this story and doesn't let up until the very last page. Vivian is a pretty tough character, and I could totally see an actress like Charlize Theron playing her.

See all of my reviews at itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com, or check out my list of the best books I read in 2017 at https://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com/2018/01/the-best-books-i-read-in-2017.html.
Profile Image for Susanne.
1,157 reviews36.4k followers
January 27, 2019
3.75 Stars* (rounded up)

Highly Addictive and Compelling, yet also Highly Unrealistic and Predictable.

Vivian is a CIA Analyst who loves her job. She also loves her husband Matt and her four kids. Life is crazy but it’s also pretty picture perfect. That is of course, until Viv stumbles across something at work that blows her world apart. That “something” and everything that happens thereafter admittedly had me glued to “Need to Know.” I listened to the audiobook and had to find out exactly what Vivian had gotten herself into.. the problem? Well, my eyes were rolling almost immediately from the start. Almost everything that happened was completely far-fetched! My believability radar was going off like crazy and I found the storyline to be completely predictable to boot. Much to my chagrin, I guessed the entirety of the book.

What I will say is this: Vivian, you got me seriously riled up! I was yelling at your character’s actions from the start. The decisions you made simply did not make sense as you put everyone in danger with every single move you made. As a CIA Analyst, your duty is to the US Government, to our Nation and not once did that duty come first. You acted like a silly school girl and a wounded woman, not like a smart, educated one.

I was so riled up that from the midpoint all the way to the end, I started texting the one person I knew who had read this and who, I knew, had the same problems with believability that I do: Lindsay, and yet come to find out, the believability factor in this book did not bother her, lol! Guess I am an outlier. What can I say.. if Viv’s decisions had been smarter… if she had put her job and her country first as others in her position do every single day and if she didn’t constantly look to others to make decisions for her then perhaps I wouldn’t have had the reaction that I did. But alas, here were are.

That being said, “Need to Know” by Karen Cleveland is extremely well written, the storyline is gripping. Let’s just say that it’s as good as coffee (and I love my coffee!) This book keeps you on your toes for sure, because well, you simply “Need to Know.” Admittedly, I’m glad I was right about everything that happened, it’s nice to be right every once in a while. So, if you like highly addictive, compelling and completely unbelievable suspense novels, you will love this one.

Thank you to audible for my copy. Thank you also to Lindsay for putting up with all of my ranting and raving (lol). I appreciated being able to “text” a friend!

Published on Goodreads on 1.26.19.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,692 reviews14.1k followers
December 28, 2017
3.5 Vivian has been married to Tom for many years, they have four children together, the last two a set of twins, one that has medical problems. She also works for the CIA, as an analyst, working on the Russian problem of sleeper cells, trying to uncover agents embedded in the States. One day, while working, she masnages to infiltrate the computer of a suspected handler. What she sees will change her life, and those of her family.

I enjoyed this, liked Vivian, she struggles so hard to keep things together, find a way out and keep her family intasct and safe. I liked this but also found it somewhat predictable. A few years back I watched the first two seasons of the Black list, one of the few series I became attached to, was a big Spader fan. This could have been taken right out of the plot of that show. Maybe that was why I wasn't too surprised by some of the revelations. The ending though was surprising, and a nice touch. Definitely leaves the reader wondering. So a mixed read for this reader.

ARC from Edelweiss.
Profile Image for Jan.
423 reviews249 followers
December 14, 2017
Holy guacamole, this 📚 is off the charts!

***Woot! Just read that this is being made into a movie, with Charlize Theron playing the lead, Vivian. This will play out well on the silver screen!***

Whether you are into political thrillers or not, I highly recommend you grab this book, as it is so much more than that! I typically shy away from this genre, unless it comes highly recommended or has high ratings, which this absolutely does. This has to be one of my top 5 fav books for this year.

It reads quick like a novella, (my ebook came in at 219 pages) and there isn't a wasted word in these pages. The subject matter is so relevant to our world today, and being able to take a peek into what goes on in the CIA felt very real. And a bit scary, to be honest. *The author was a former CIA Analyst, specializing in counter-terrorism, so her insight is hands on and it shows.*

That's the nuts and bolts of the story. What really got me hooked was how the author was able to create such suspense, tension and paranoia. I was right there with Vivian, questioning everything I was reading. What is the truth? Who can you believe? Who can you go to for help? Do you listen to your heart, or do you rely on your gut?

The plot is intricately woven, every possible scenario well thought out and executed perfectly. Every time I thought I found a loop hole, that door was quickly shut and another opened, taking me down a new path of possibilities. And the ending? Absolutely brilliant!!

I can't believe this is a debut novel. Coming this strong out of the gate, she has big shoes to fill for book #2, which I will be eagerly anticipating!

ARC provided by NetGalley
Profile Image for Liz.
1,960 reviews2,412 followers
January 18, 2018
4.5 stars, rounded up
I’m not a big fan of thrillers. But I saw a lot of positive reviews on GR about this book and decided to take a chance. And I’m so glad I did!

Vivian Miller is a CIA counterintelligence agent searching for Russian sleeper spies in the US. She finally manages to infiltrate the computer of a suspected handler and whose picture pops up in his files? Her husband’s. Boom.

In truth, this book isn’t so much a spy thriller. It’s much more about how much you know about the one you love. How your world can just change in a second. And if your whole life has been based on a lie, can you ever learn to trust again?

This book really grabbed me. I felt all the tension and angst that Vivian felt. I agonized over every choice she was faced with. What takes priority, family or country? This is a book that you just want to keep reading. I had to know how it was going to play out. The whole time I was reading this, this old adage kept going through my brain... Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.

My thanks to netgalley and Random House for an advance copy of this book.
Profile Image for Linda.
1,192 reviews1,244 followers
February 9, 2018
"The worst thing about being lied to is knowing you weren't worth the truth." (Unknown)

Hunched apprehensibly over the keyboard of her computer, Vivian Miller's eyes seem to ache and burn with the prospect of something on the precipice of a break through. Her years as a CIA counterintelligence analyst gnaws at her that something is within reach......something elusive at her very fingertips.

Vivian is a phantom figure with the ability to access the computer of a suspected Russian operative. The payoff will come in the way of uncovering Russian sleeper cells operating in the U.S.. These sleeper cells are made up of individuals who adeptly take on the look of everyday Americans in their day-to-day lives. Baseball, apple pie, wrapped up neatly in compromising reports and high-priority information sent back to Mother Russia. Signed, sealed, and delivered wrapped up in the red, white, and blue.

As Vivian clicks on a folder entitled "Friends", she gets a paralyzing shock that leaves her breathless. Within the folder are five faces staring up at her. One of them is oh so familiar. Within seconds, this act of revealment will force her to make desperate decisions in order to protect her family and to keep her allegiance to her job and to her own country. That click of the mouse comes with an unbearable price.

Karen Cleveland presents a storyline focusing on a strong female lead character caught up in the deadly game of espionage. Before your eyes glaze over in thinking that this is a typically dry spy adventure brimming with testosterone, let me tell you that Cleveland whips this one in a totally different direction. Our girl Vivian has been married to Matt for ten years and they have four children, including a set of rambunctious twin boys. Vivian balances her life with daycare trips and sick kids. And at the core of all this is the deep, deep reality of her heavy-duty job that will shine a light on her family and the protection of the country at large.

Need to Know is a fast-paced thriller lined with untruths. Doubt will come in many forms in this one. Bottom line: Just who is trustworthy nowadays? Stay tuned as Need to Know will be made into a movie starring Charlize Theron. They've got plenty of material to work with here, some a bit predictable and the rest......quite jarring to say the least......pass the popcorn, please.
Profile Image for Caro (Bookaria).
600 reviews18.7k followers
January 14, 2018
This is an excellent political thriller!

Vivian Miller works for the CIA and is assigned to the Russian division trying to uncover sleeper cells. One day, she is analyzing the computer of a known Russian operative and finds a folder named "Friends", when she opens it up her life is turned upside down and her family is immediately in danger.

This story is a suspense-filled journey. The story is told from the point of view of Vivian and it gives you a glimpse into the everyday life of a CIA analyst. The author worked for the CIA for a few years and the novel is being adapted into a movie.

Overall, I enjoyed the story and highly recommend the novel to readers of thrillers and contemporary fiction.

Thanks to NetGalley, the author, and the publisher for providing me with a copy of this publication in exchange for an honest review. 

Profile Image for Paromjit.
2,540 reviews24.6k followers
February 20, 2019
Karen Cleveland writes a twisted and tense espionage thriller through the prism of a family and a marriage, where the life of a CIA counterintelligence analyst, Vivian Miller, begins to unravel after coming up with an algorithm that will allow her to access the computer of a suspected Russian spy and handler of sleeper agents in the US, Yury Yakov. Living in a small home in the suburbs, close to Langley, Vivian has been happily married to her adored husband, Matt, for a decade, and have 4 young children, Luke, Ella, and twins, Chase and Caleb. Caleb has a congenital heart defect, piling on the worry and stress in the everyday family domestic chaos that results with small children. Matt is the backbone of the family, it is he that is responsible for the juggling of the everyday care of boisterous children, with all the consequent issues and the unexpected that arises. It is Vivian's job that provides the health insurance that takes care of Caleb's health bills and her income that provides the mainstay of the family, where managing their finances is a constant struggle.

Despite her inner yearnings to be a stay at home mom for her kids through the years, circumstances have conspired to ensure that Vivian's family is dependent on her job. As she begins to look at the contents of Yury's laptop, she finds pictures of five sleeper agents, and her world falls apart when to her horror, one of them is her beloved Matt. Vivian loves her country, she would never countenance betrayal and treason, but these are not normal times as she finds her life spiraling out of control. She is sucked into a moral quagmire, like most women, her first priority is her family and she will do anything, absolutely anything to protect and ensure the safety of her children. Vivian begins to reflect on the nature of her relationship with Matt and the dynamics of their marriage in a narrative that goes back and forth in time. She mulls over the strange and odd anomalies through the years, balancing that with all the self evident proof of his unquestionable love for her and the children. Has Matt been manipulating her? Her doubts and mistrust are at war with her inherent emotional closeness to Matt as she is torn apart, and as the danger comes to encompass the children, she looks to find a way to save her family and her country when all the odds are stacked against her.

Karen Cleveland writes a intense and twisted domestic drama, a family in danger, in a story of espionage and intrigue. She piles on the suspense and tension in this well plotted spy thriller, and her knowledge of the workings of the CIA is informed by personal knowledge, she herself used to be a CIA analyst. This was an entertaining and compulsive read which will appeal to a wide range of readers interested in domestic drama and espionage thrillers. Many thanks to Random House Transworld for an ARC.
Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.7k followers
January 24, 2018
This spy thriller novel is now on sale!
A CIA counterintelligence analyst investigating Russian sleeper spies finds a face she never expected in a hidden file, and her world is immediately turned upside down. And it only gets more tense from there...

Vivian Miller has been happily married to Matt, a software engineer, for almost ten years, with four young children. She works full-time for the CIA, trying to uncover a network of Russian sleeper spies. Viv has developed an algorithm for identifying people who are likely suspects for being Russian spy handlers, based on education, their banking practices, travel to and contacts with Russia, and so on. Then she tries to hack into their computers to see if she can find any evidence of spying.

Her current lead, Yury, seems a likely candidate. And in fact, once she's able to hack into Yury's laptop, she finds a file labeled "Friends" in Russian, with five images of people who could be in Yury's cell of sleeper spies. When Viv opens the third image, she's shocked to her core, and her first impulse is to hide it. But her finding will impact her life in ways she never imagined, and as everything comes crashing down around her, she doesn't know who she can trust.

I was traveling cross-country when I started this book, and it was the only thing I could read. There are hidden plots and subplots, wheels within wheels. Karen Cleveland does a great job of making you feel sympathy for Vivian and the impossible choices she's facing, including the difficult choice of working full-time when you have young children. It's a fast-paced read that's incredibly gripping and almost impossible to put down until you get to the end.

I received free copy of this ebook from the publisher and NetGalley for review. Thanks!
Profile Image for Taryn.
325 reviews293 followers
January 22, 2018
Fun and fast-paced!

CIA counterintelligence analyst Vivian is close to a big breakthrough at work. Her department is trying to find Russian sleeper agents living in the United States and she's developed an algorithm to identify likely handlers. Her eagerness to break the case dissipates when she gains access to a suspected handler’s computer and finds a file that makes her question every decision that she's made for the last decade. When forced to choose between her oath to the U.S. Constitution and keeping her family together, what will she do?

Frequently, people who go along a treasonous path do not know they are on a treasonous path until it is too late.” - John Brennan, the former director of the C.I.A, testifying in front of the House Intelligence Committee (May 23 2017)

I was interested in this book because of the recent investigations into foreign intervention in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. I also chose it because I thought it might be similar to my favorite TV show The Americans, but the Shonda Rhimes comparisons are much closer. There's a new development in almost every chapter, so it's really hard to put down! The author Karen Cleveland was an actual CIA analyst, which made the professional aspects much more intriguing for me.

• ↑ That was basically me the entire time I was reading this book! Vivian feels cornered and acts irrationally. She makes increasingly terrible decisions as the story goes on. Of course, people act in ways that don't make sense all the time. It can be hard to see the big picture when you're in the thick of things, especially when your family is at risk! I ended up accepting it and actually started cheering on her bad choices, because I wanted to see what the consequences would be!
• Vivian feels guilty about all the time she's missed out on with her four young kids. The kids run to their dad for comfort, not her. She has always wanted to leave her job and stay home with them but never had the opportunity. The domestic angle makes Vivian relatable, but it also slowed the story down a little. I felt like skimming when child pick-up and evening routines interrupted the spy stuff!

"Sometimes we think that shielding the truth will protect those we love the most."

I love when an author presents me with a difficult situation and makes me see how hard it can be to make the "right" choice. This book was exactly what I needed at the time and I had fun with it. It was an easy-breezy reading experience. I'd put it into my The Couple Next Door pile as far as entertainment value: !PLOT!, fast-paced, and it elicited a wicked grin from me at the end. (The characters are better in this one though.) If you're looking to turn your brain off and get consumed by a wild story, Need to Know is a good choice. It's total book candy! The movie is already in the planning stages and will be staring Charlize Theron.

I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. The publication date is January 23, 2018.
Profile Image for Marialyce (absltmom, yaya).
1,936 reviews722 followers
June 7, 2021
5 extremely suspenseful on the edge of your seat stars!
This one was so good, so very, very good!

"I've always wanted to be a spy because it is the ultimate acting exercise. You are never what you seem."

Vivian is a trusted, loyal CIA analyst. She has a harried life with four children, one of who is ill with a heart ailment. She has a loving but also harried husband, Matt. Vivian is looking for a promotion since the money is desperately needed for her family. It seems to be a guarantee for her as she has developed a way in which to find Russian sleeper agents. All looks well until she stumbles upon a secret, one that threatens to uproot her and her family and puts her at odds with the country she has sworn to protect and defend against all enemies both foreign and domestic.

This was a tense novel that keeps the reader totally engaged in the intrigue and cunning that goes on in the spy business. Ms Cleveland keeps the action, suspense, and intrigue going all the way up to the end with lots of twists and turns. This was one of those novels that kept me up to 2am reading just one more chapter to see where Ms Cleveland would take us next. The author also presented us with the ultimate dilemma that perhaps many of those working to ferret out spies go through. The spy system of our country and others is extremely sophisticated and these agencies know our deepest secrets and use them to their advantage. Who can Vivian trust? Does she have a chance to overcome the constant obstacles put in her path? Can she save herself, her children, her husband? And that ending will blow your mind! I highly recommend this book if you are a lover of spy, suspense, and the biting of nails type reader.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Random House for the opportunity to read this thriller for an unbiased review.
Profile Image for Lou (nonfiction fiend).
2,771 reviews1,616 followers
December 11, 2017
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?


As soon as I read the synopsis I knew I just had to read this and thanks to the publisher I got my wish! I was drawn into the book from the very first chapter, there is so much suspense, a great plot and fantastic writing. The book actually starts with a huge plot point and then the rest of the book focuses on the fallout of that event. The fact that Karen Cleveland actually worked for many years as a CIA analyst lends authenticity to the book that is usually notoriously absent in other fiction titles.

The book centres around Vivian and her young family and the dilemma she faces that could change her and the kids' lives forever. The situation and the feelings surrounding the betrayal are something that no normal person could sweep under the carpet. You can really relate to what Vivian actually does and doesn't do during the book.

I often find books featuring espionage go either one or two ways - either really tedious and like wading through mud in reading terms...or superb, authentic feeling and i am pleased to say this was the latter. It was such an edge of your seat thrill ride as you got twists and turns in each chapter. A lot of spy novels feature tonnes of characters that aren't developed in any way but this is the opposite of that - there are fewer characters making it easy to follow and you get to know a great deal about them, especially Matt and Viv(ian).

An absolutely cracking debut novel. It's safe to say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading Need To Know and I look forward to reading more of Karen Cleveland's writing!

I would like to thank Random House UK - Transworld/Karen Cleveland and NetGalley for providing an ARC in exchange for an impartial review.
Profile Image for Dem.
1,184 reviews1,080 followers
July 14, 2019
A thriller that was edgy and gripping from start of finish. The reader may have to suspend disbelief just a little, but well worth it as this one is a suspenseful and gripping espionage thriller that is full of drama.

The first couple of chapters of this novel had me gasping for air and holding on to the edge of my seat.

Vivian Miller is a CIA analyst assigned to uncover Russian sleeper cells in the USA. After accessing the computer of a suspected Russian spy she stumbles on a secret dossier of a deep cover agents living in her own country. A few clicks later and everything that matters to Vivian is threatened, her job, her husband even her four children.

I was swept along with the suspense of this novel and I just kept putting myself in Vivians’s position and the choices I would have made had it been me. l love when a book captures my imagination and throws me into the character’s story. You do have to suspend disbelief a little with this one but the thrills are well worth it. A short novel at under 300 pages but this one really does pack a punch.

I finished this book wanting More although I did love the ending. A great debut novel full of twists and turns and a rocking good read for me.
Profile Image for Kat.
Author 8 books326 followers
October 9, 2021
Full Review: Thank you so much to Random House and NetGalley for allowing me to read and review this thrilling spy novel by Karen Cleveland. I squealed when I saw I was approved to read this. I have been enthralled with the idea of Russian sleeper cells and the real/not-real dilemma any relationships that might form as they try to assimilate into American lives ever since seeing the first season of “The Americans.” And this AMAZING offering by Karen Cleveland absolutely lived up to everything I had hoped for.

Without giving too much away, because half the fun of this novel is the clever way Cleveland whips you around one shocking corner after the next, Vivian is an analyst working for the CIA on a project to uncover Russian sleeper cells—Russians who have been posing as Americans and can speak fluently with no accent. She and her husband Matt have been married for ten years and have four kids. When new information is decoded, Vivian is in for the shock of her life.

The majority of the novel is spent handling the fallout, and also answering questions like what do you do when your life is being ripped apart? It’s easy to think we would make one choice when we think of things in black and white, but Karen Cleveland does such a brilliant and nuanced job of illustrating the bleakness of the way monsters operate, and how when your back is against a wall, you might find yourself willing to consider things you once considered unthinkable. Just brilliant work.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the author.

Please excuse typos. Entered on screen reader.
February 2, 2018
Domestic drama with a sideline in espionage, I am unsure whether Karen Cleveland’s debut novel is intended as a spy thriller aimed at female readers or simply an opportunity to cast a kick-ass female actress in the role of protagonist, Vivian Miller, a supermom and occasionally a counterintelligence analyst for the CIA. Juggling domestic dramas along with upholding national security might sound like a tough ask for even the most adept CIA operative (which on the evidence of Vivian’s decision making and skill set she clearly isn’t), but it is the backdrop surrounding a plot of minimal depth. I suspect that given the lack of detail, the endless talking in circles and the oddly robotic characters, a big name movie cast might be the only thing that can save this admittedly fast-moving novel from mediocrity but as it stands Need to Know is a disappointment.

The story centres around happily married couple of ten years, Vivian and Matt Miller and their four young children living in the suburbs of Washington D.C. As a CIA counterintelligence analyst, narrator Vivian is dedicated to her work and despite working long hours she is satisfied and well aware of how much her flexible, encouraging and supportive software engineer husband Matt brings to the combined family unit. However with financial strains and one child’s congenital health condition domestic life isn’t all plain sailing for the Miller’s, but with Vivian assigned to the high profile Russian account and with a promotion in her sights the family are fully invested in her career. Tasked with uncovering a network of Russian sleeper agents within the US she has developed a methodology for identifying those involved in the highly secretive program. Alongside her infectiously optimistic FBI counterpart, Omar, who is targeting the actual sleepers, Vivian’s algorithm is designed to highlight those running the cells of five sleepers and thereby setback Russian infiltration of US national security. With everything riding on her final suspect and finding conclusive proof on Yury Yakov’s computer that he is handling a cell she stumbles upon a file containing five photos, all devoid of names but in the case of one of the jpeg images very easily identifiable...

Faced with the image of the man she loves, trusts and the father of her four children, the photo of Matt on Yakov’s computer threatens to jeopardise everything of importance to Vivian. Confronting Matt with her shocking discovery his easy admittance of his long history of working for the Russians makes a mockery of their love at first sight romance. Beset by questions of whether she was simply Matt’s target and astounded by his duplicity Vivian’s split second decision to delete his image from the system makes her decision fraught with implications, from betraying her country to facing charges of treason and shattering the worlds of her fragile children. Karen Cleveland takes readers though Vivian’s relationship with Matt and multiple pregnancies all told in the form of flashbacks and reanalysed following her staggering discovery.

The lapses into domestic concerns works to slow down the narrative and Cleveland drags her audience through every aspect of the children’s arrival and the pedestrian details surrounding meeting Matt’s parents to the couple overstretching their combined finances, retrospectively indicating Matt’s desire to chain Vivian to her well paid job. Against these continual domestic dramas the real meat of the story is slow to fill out and command readers attention and honestly just how much convincing does a supposedly astute professional need after ten years of lies that she cannot trust her husband? Clearly a lot more than me on the evidence presented by Vivian. I veered between wanting to slap her or simply tuning out her tiresome self-examination of life since marriage, from the days of early romance through to pivotal snapshots of decisions such as buying a house to planning a family. Need To Know is vague on the specifics surrounding much of Vivian’s work and this quickly becomes frustrating as Cleveland bats around an array of terminology that conveys very little information of actual substance but seems designed to impress with references to treason and national security. Whilst the premise has potential, the execution and characterisation let this novel down woefully and readers who rarely dabble in the genre of espionage fiction will not be out of their depth as the technical details never progress beyond a basic outline and is solely concerned with marital over security concerns.

Thin on plotting, the expansive and convivial narrative of Vivian injects a breeziness into the unfolding action but the rhetorical questions come thick and fast with endless, ‘can I trust my husband’ angst and hand wringing. Cleveland manages to successfully convey Vivian’s predicament and the double bind of her relationship with Matt but both lead characters are poorly developed and hard to become interested in, with Matt appearing slippery and showing like evidence of any characterisation at all and Vivian working on the Russian account and infiltrating their technology yet bizarrely unable to speak Russian and with limited IT knowledge. I found her character lacked the qualities that would surely be important in the role of a security analyst and examples of her ability to assimilate, process and respond to developments in a timely manner are in short supply. Sadly she can’t make a decision for her life and is so easily swayed by a husband who has already spent the entire marriage of a decade lying to her. Vivian is anything but slick and savvy and the idea of anyone letting her near any matters of national security is unlikely.

Developments and action readily come but just not in sufficient quantities to make Need To Know anything but a flimsy story of a mom with a gun putting her children at the top of her priorities. The espionage analysis is half-hearted and kept at arms length and on conclusion the reader has learnt little aside from just what a poor judge of character Vivian is to have been married to a man whose entire past is a lie. An uninspiring heroine and a vapid husband reveal just how lean Karen Cleveland’s plot is. As a fast-paced and twisty read there is little doubt that Need to Know will be a huge success, but with the focus on marital dynamics and trusting ones spouse it is definitely not a stimulating or thought-provoking spy thriller. Straddling two genres and doing neither particularly well, Karen Cleveland’s debut effort is a difficult novel to classify, but for espionage aficionados my advice would be steer clear and wait for the DVD release!
Profile Image for Carol.
824 reviews479 followers
February 28, 2018
The Hook - Recommendation by Michael Kindness, voracious reader and Sales Rep for Penguin Random House, in an interview on Book Cougars Podcast, Episode 39 hosted by Chris Wolak and Emily Fine. I trust Michael, and for that matter, Ann Kingman, longtime hosts of the Booksonthenightstand. Though no longer podcasting, all-390 episodes are available for a listen. A huge shout-out to Chris and Emily, Book Cougars, Rahhhh!

The Line - ”…support and defend the Constitution of the Untied States against all enemies, foreign and domestic…”

The Sinker - This debut novel definitely delivers its promise as a thriller. Karen Cleveland, a former CIA Analyst, plots with precision providing just what you need to know, or does she? Vivian Miller works the Russian Desk of the CIA. When Vivian finds a picture of her husband Matt in a group of five suspected Russian Sleeper Agents, she is stunned. Her happy, though not perfect marriage begins to topple as her trust and loyalty to Matt is questioned. He swears he had no choice but to do what he did to stay alive and keep their family safe yet Vivian feels manipulated. All she believes, like a house of cards is tumbling down. Should she turn Matt in? Betray her allegiance to the US? Put her four children in danger? The clues to the answers are there if you read between the lines.

Did I like Need to Know? Yes I did.

I’ll read Vivian Miller’s next adventure, as I believe there will be one, if only to see what’s up next.
Profile Image for Faith.
1,821 reviews499 followers
March 18, 2018
Don't read this expecting a spy thriller. I'm sure that this book will be made into a movie, a cheesy Lifetime network movie. In fact, some of the plot points have already been used in the TV series The Blacklist. If CIA agents really behave this way then perhaps "draining the swamp" is actually called for. Vivian Miller is a CIA counterintelligence analyst searching for leaders of Russian sleeper cells in the US. Wouldn't it be nice if she spoke and could read Russian? I guess competence is too much to ask for. A woman who should be intelligent behaves like a dithering, easily manipulated idiot throughout the entire book. We get a lot of internal monologue about betrayal (both of a spouse and of the country). Should I or shouldn't I be a traitor? Gee, we could really use the money, especially with all these kids including an infant with a cardiac condition. And there is way too much domestic detail about the four children. I disliked everything about this book - no suspense, predictable twists and an ending that is no surprise at all. Russia is clearly going to win this battle.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.
Profile Image for Brenda.
725 reviews150 followers
April 10, 2018
The first five chapters of this book were suspenseful and had me holding my breath, waiting to see what the protagonist, Vivian Miller, would decide. Viv is a CIA analyst working in Russian counterintelligence looking for sleeper cells in the U.S. She discovers something that is a sucker punch to her life. I was on edge right there with her, thinking through what I would have done in that situation.

Once her decision is made, it was a matter of figuring out whether her husband, Matt, could be believed and trusted. The author did a fairly good job with this and had me doubting. The sections that showed Viv remembering events and conversations in hindsight felt realistic. I certainly can remember things said to me in my past.

I think I have a healthy sense of skepticism and a pretty good bullshit meter. I didn’t see things the way Viv saw things. I knew her attempts to repair would only make things worse. I don’t think I could have been manipulated as easily. But until I’m actually in that situation, do I *really* know what I’d do and how I would react? So I accepted Viv's actions and went along for the ride.

The book does become a bit predictable as the resolution draws near, but I did enjoy the story. All in all, this is a good debut and I’d read Karen Cleveland's next book.
Profile Image for Mary.
1,410 reviews491 followers
February 3, 2018
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ / 5

Happy pub date to this beauty of a book! I absolutely L-O-V-E-D this spy thriller. Need to Know was a real page turner. Espionage and a whoooooooole lot of secrets.

The story jumps between current day and goes back to when Vivian and her husband Matt first met. It continues on through them having kids, and experiences they have had together. I loved that the book jumps back and forth, and it really gives great background on both Vivian and Matt. I think the characters are very well-developed, and had its share of both likeable and unlikeable characters. I loved Vivian, she was such an awesome woman, and she felt extremely real which I loved.

It is also a very fast paced book, and I was hooked from the very first page. It kind of reminded me of a James Bond movie, but without all the sleeping around....

I couldn't tell at all that this is Karen Cleveland's debut novel, it is that good. However, I can definitely tell that she is a former CIA analyst! I love when authors write about what they know, and I think it really shines through in this book. Political thriller. Spy thriller. Call it what you want, but everything was explained so perfectly and I didn't feel like anything was over- explained to the point of being overwhelming. You know exactly what is going on even if you know nothing about politics, Russians, or the CIA.

I was a tiny bit frustrated with Vivian as the book progressed, but I can't tell you why because I don't want to give anything away! Anyone know what I mean, please DM me so we can discuss. I just think there were lots of red flags that a person would normally find strange/suspicious/not normal, but she thought nothing of.

Final Thought: This book is a definite MUST READ in my opinion. The ending literally gave me chills, and that rarely even happens! The epilogue is definitely where its at. I hear they are making this into a movie starring Charlize Theron as Vivian, and I cannot WAIT until that comes out so I can watch it. I think this book will translate quite nicely to the silver screen. With all the thrillers coming out lately, this book was incredibly new and different. It was very refreshing to read, and a change from the norm. If there is a second book to this one I will totally read it, and I can't wait for Karen Cleveland to write more books!!

*This title was published today, 23 Jan 2017*

*Thanks so much to Ballantine Books for providing me not only with an electronic ARC of this book via NetGalley, but a physical copy as well!!! My review is completely honest and unbiased*
Profile Image for Lisa.
610 reviews232 followers
January 23, 2018

MY RATING ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
PUBLISHER Ballantine Books
PUBLISHED January 23, 2018

A heart-wrenching counterintelligence thriller that is impossible to put down.

Vivian Miller is a CIA counterintelligence analyst trying to identify Russian sleeper cells and their handlers. She's getting close. And then she find something total unexpected when hacking into a suspect’s computer. A picture of her husband labeled as “friend”. Viv and Matt been married ten fabulous years and have four young children. She's beside herself. She confronts Matt with the accusation and he volunteers he's been a deep cover operative for the Russians for 22 years. She's devastated. Their entire marriage has been a sham from the beginning. But now she has to decide what to do. Should she turn him him? Can she turn him in? What will it do to the kids? Can she fix this. Then things get even worse.

NEED TO KNOW captured my attention immediately. I was so caught up in this spy story I forgot it was just a story. It could have been real. It could be today. This is a fabulous debut novel by KAREN CLEVELAND, who worked as a CIA analyst for eight years. She knows of what she writes!

I was so emotional invested in the book. Where do you turn when the person you trusted the most has been lying to you for years? Cleveland’s writing was great. The plot is so emotionally charged it just captivated me. Particularly in today' political environment. At times the story was so intense I had to put it down, but I still read it all in one day, which is unusual for me. It was a mesmerizing thriller. The ending was simply brilliant, it blew me away. Can't stop thinking about it.

This should be one of the first books you read in 2018, because the movie rights have already been sold and Charlize Theron is playing Vivian. Can't wait. Thanks to Netgalley, Ballantine Books and Karen Cleveland for an advanced reading copy in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Nazanin.
1,053 reviews598 followers
October 11, 2018
3.75 Stars

Vivian works for CIA, she is an analyst that works on uncovering Russian sleepers in the US. In one of her assignment she finds a folder with "friends" name on it but what she sees in the folder spins her whole world, threaten her life, her work and her family! She doesn’t know who can she trust anymore! How can she save her family! Is this a mistake? Had her life been built based on a lie? How can she choose between her family and her country!? Is that possible at all!!!

Well, so enjoyable! I don’t know why I waited so long to read it, maybe because I’m not really into the political thrillers!?! But so happy I finally read it (That’s what matters, right)! It gave me such a thrill! So well-written in such a way that it’s really hard to put it down! It contains flashback, well-paced and keeps you on the edge of your seat the whole time! It’s just that I was hoping for a different ending! Told in single POV (Vivian), 1st person. It’s a standalone novel. Overall, I had a good time with this one and hope you like it as well!
Profile Image for Liz Barnsley.
3,405 reviews989 followers
August 14, 2017
I have read this book.

That ending though.

Highly Recommended.

Sorry that is all I can tell you if I value my life....
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