Join spy thriller authors Aya de León, Alma Katsu, Lara Prescott, and Lauren Wilkinson with Back Room hosts Karen Dionne and Hank Phillippi Ryan for an evening of great conversation!
Aya de León teaches creative writing at UC Berkeley. Kensington Books publishes her “Justice Hustlers” feminist heist series, which has won the International Latino Book award, multiple Independent Publisher awards, and has been optioned for television.
In 2020, Kensington published her first standalone novel, A Spy in the Struggle, about FBI infiltration of an African American eco-racial justice organization. Her second standalone will come out in December 2021, Queen of Urban Prophecy, about women in hip hop, police violence, and the climate crisis.
Her work has also appeared in Harper’s Bazaar, Ebony, Guernica, Bitch Magazine, and VICE, among other outlets. In 2022, Candlewick Press will publish Undercover Latina, the first in a Black/Latina spy girl series for teens. She can be found online at AyadeLeon.com.
Alma Katsu’s books have received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Library Journal, been featured in the NY Times and Washington Post, been nominated and won multiple prestigious awards, and appeared on numerous Best Books lists including NPR, the Observer, Barnes and Noble, Apple Books, Goodreads, and Amazon.
Red Widow is her first spy novel, the logical marriage of her love of storytelling with her 30+ year career in intelligence. As an intelligence officer, Ms. Katsu worked at several federal agencies as a senior analyst where she advised policymakers and military commanders on issues of national security. The last third of her government career was spent in emerging technologies and technology forecasting. She was also a senior technology policy analyst for the RAND Corporation and continues as an independent consultant and technology futurist, advising clients in government and private industry.
Ms. Katsu has relocated from the Washington, DC area to the mountains of West Virginia, where she lives with her musician husband Bruce and their two dogs, Nick and Ash. Learn more at almakatsubooks.com.
Lara Prescott is the author of The Secrets We Kept, an instant New York Times bestseller and a Hello Sunshine x Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick. The Secrets We Kept is Lara’s debut novel and will be translated into over 30 languages and adapted for television by The Ink Factory and Marc Platt Productions.
Lara received her MFA from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas. She studied political science at American University in Washington, D.C. and international development in Namibia and South Africa. Prior to writing fiction, Lara worked as a political campaign consultant.
Lara’s writing has appeared in The Southern Review, The Hudson Review, Crazyhorse, and more. She lives in Portsmouth, NH with her husband, son, cats, and dog. Learn more at laraprescott.com.
Lauren Wilkinson’s debut novel, American Spy, was a Washington Post bestseller, an NAACP Image Award nominee, an Anthony award nominee, and an Edgar Award nominee. It was short-listed for the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize, was a Barnes & Noble Book of the Month, a PBS book club pick, and was included on Barack Obama’s 2019 Recommended Reading List.
Lauren earned an MFA in fiction and literary translation from Columbia University, and has taught writing at Columbia and the Fashion Institute of Technology. She was a Center for Fiction Emerging Writer’s Fellow, and has received support from both the MacDowell Colony and the Djerassi Resident Artists Program. Her writing has appeared in Granta, The Believer, New York magazine and The New York Times, among other publications.
Lauren splits her time between New York and Los Angeles where she works as a writer for television. Learn more at lauren-wilkinson.com.
Karen Dionne is the USA Today and #1 internationally bestselling author of the award-winning psychological suspense novel The Marsh King’s Daughter, published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons in the US and in 26 other countries. Her follow up novel, The Wicked Sister (August 2020, G.P. Putnam’s Sons), is also an international bestseller and was chosen by Publishers Weekly as one of their Best Books of 2020.
Both The Wicked Sister and The Marsh King’s Daughter were selected by the Library of Michigan as Michigan Notable Books, and The Marsh King’s Daughter took home the Barry and the Crimson Scribe Awards for Best Novel. The Marsh King’s Daughter was also chosen as one of the best books of 2017 by iBooks, Hudson Booksellers, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The Irish Independent, The Florida Sun-Sentinel, Library Journal, Shelf Awareness and many other booksellers and reviewers, and is in development as a major motion picture. Visit Karen at www.karen-dionne.com
Hank is also an award-winning investigative reporter at Boston’s WHDH-TV. In addition to 37 EMMYs and 14 Edward R. Murrow awards, Hank’s won dozens of other honors for her ground-breaking journalism. Hank is a founding teacher at Mystery Writers of America University and served as past president of national Sisters in Crime. Her upcoming novel, Her Perfect Life, will be published September 14, 2021. Learn more at www.HankPhillippiRyan.com.
Since childhood, Yolanda Vance has forged her desire to escape poverty into a laser-like focus that took her through prep school and Harvard Law. So when her prestigious New York law firm is raided by the FBI, Yolanda turns in her corrupt bosses to save her career–and goes to work for the Bureau. Soon she’s sent undercover at Red, Black, and Green–an African-American “extremist” activist group back in her California college town. They claim a biotech corporation fueled by Pentagon funding is exploiting the neighborhood. But Yolanda is determined to put this assignment in her win column, head back to corporate law, and regain her comfortable life…
Until an unexpected romance opens her heart–and a suspicious death opens her eyes. Menacing dark money forces will do anything to bury Yolanda and the movement. Fueled by memories of who she once was–and what once really mattered most–how can she tell those who’ve come to trust her that she’s been spying? As the stakes escalate, and one misstep could cost her life, Yolanda will have to choose between betraying the cause of her people or invoking the wrath of the country’s most powerful law enforcement agency.
Purchase A Spy In The Struggle at an independent bookstore near you.
Purchase A Spy In The Struggle online at www.bookshop.org.
Lyndsey Duncan worries her career with the CIA might be over. After lines are crossed with another intelligence agent during an assignment, she is sent home to Washington on administrative leave. So when a former colleague–now Chief of the Russia Division–recruits her for an internal investigation, she jumps at the chance to prove herself. Lyndsey was once a top handler in the Moscow Field Station, where she was known as the “human lie detector” and praised for recruiting some of the most senior Russian officials. But now, three Russian assets have been exposed–including one of her own–and the CIA is convinced there’s a mole in the department. With years of work in question and lives on the line, Lyndsey is thrown back into life at the agency, this time tracing the steps of those closest to her.
Meanwhile, fellow agent Theresa Warner can’t avoid the spotlight. She is the infamous “Red Widow,” the wife of a former director killed in the field under mysterious circumstances. With her husband’s legacy shadowing her every move, Theresa is a fixture of the Russia Division, and as she and Lyndsey strike up an unusual friendship, her knowledge proves invaluable. But as Lyndsey uncovers a surprising connection to Theresa that could answer all of her questions, she unearths a terrifying web of secrets within the department, if only she is willing to unravel it….
Purchase Red Widow at an independent bookstore near you.
Purchase Red Widow online at www.bookshop.org.
At the height of the Cold War, Irina, a young Russian-American secretary, is plucked from the CIA typing pool and given the assignment of a lifetime. Her mission: to help smuggle Doctor Zhivago into the USSR, where it is banned, and enable Boris Pasternak’s magnum opus to make its way into print around the world. Mentoring Irina is the glamorous Sally Forrester: a seasoned spy who has honed her gift for deceit, using her magnetism and charm to pry secrets out of powerful men.
Under Sally’s tutelage, Irina learns how to invisibly ferry classified documents—and discovers deeply buried truths about herself. The Secrets We Kept combines a legendary literary love story—the decades-long affair between Pasternak and his mistress and muse, Olga Ivinskaya, who inspired Zhivago’s heroine, Lara—with a narrative about two women empowered to lead lives of extraordinary intrigue and risk.
Told with soaring emotional intensity and captivating historical detail, this is an unforgettable debut: a celebration of the powerful belief that a work of art can change the world.
Purchase The Secrets We Kept at an independent bookstore near you.
Purchase The Secrets We Kept online at www.bookshop.org.
It’s 1986, the heart of the Cold War, and Marie Mitchell is an intelligence officer with the FBI. She’s brilliant, but she’s also a young black woman working in an old boys’ club. Her career has stalled out, she’s overlooked for every high-profile squad, and her days are filled with monotonous paperwork. So when she’s given the opportunity to join a shadowy task force aimed at undermining Thomas Sankara, the charismatic revolutionary president of Burkina Faso whose Communist ideology has made him a target for American intervention, she says yes. Yes, even though she secretly admires the work Sankara is doing for his country. Yes, even though she is still grieving the mysterious death of her sister, whose example led Marie to this career path in the first place. Yes, even though a furious part of her suspects she’s being offered the job because of her appearance and not her talent.
In the year that follows, Marie will observe Sankara, seduce him, and ultimately have a hand in the coup that will bring him down. But doing so will change everything she believes about what it means to be a spy, a lover, a sister, and a good American.
Inspired by true events—Thomas Sankara is known as “Africa’s Che Guevara”—American Spy knits together a gripping spy thriller, a heartbreaking family drama, and a passionate romance.
Purchase American Spy at an independent bookstore near you.
Purchase American Spy online at www.bookshop.org.
The Wicked Sister by Karen Dionne
From the bestselling and award-winning author of The Marsh King’s Daughter comes a startling novel of psychological suspense as two generations of sisters try to unravel their tangled relationships between nature and nurture, guilt and betrayal, love and evil.
You have been cut off from society for fifteen years, shut away in a mental hospital in self-imposed exile as punishment for the terrible thing you did when you were a child.
But what if nothing about your past is as it seems? And if you didn’t accidentally shoot and kill your mother, then whoever did is still out there. Waiting for you.
Purchase The Wicked Sister at an independent bookstore near you.
Purchase The Wicked Sister online at www.bookshop.org.
We all have our reasons for being who we are―but what if being someone else could get you what you want? After a devastating betrayal, a young woman sets off on an obsessive path to justice, no matter what dark family secrets are revealed.
What she doesn’t know―she isn’t the only one plotting revenge. An affluent daughter of privilege. A glamorous manipulative wannabe. A determined reporter, in too deep. A grieving widow who has to choose her new reality. Who will be the first to lie? And when the stakes are life and death, do a few lies really matter?
Purchase The First to Lie at an independent bookstore near you.
Purchase The First to Lie online at www.bookshop.org.