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Lion Eyes    by Claire Berlinski order for
Lion Eyes
by Claire Berlinski
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2008 (2007)
Hardcover, Paperback, CD, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Claire Berlinski's Lion Eyes explores the strange directions that relationships developed online can take, through an engaging set of remarkably quirky characters. The story is narrated by Claire, whose first novel, Loose Lips, brings her to the attention of Iranian archeologist Arsalan Safavi - he seeks to acquire a copy of her book.

Claire is living in Paris, working on her next novel - and procrastinating by chatting with friends online, after breaking up with Irish Jimmy. She begins to correspond with Arsalan, who shares his grief over his mother's death and his growing affection for her orphaned cat Wollef, and who quotes Iranian poems. Claire also communicates with Samantha, who tells her: 'I'm disguising myself as a man for a year and hanging out with men. Then I'm going to write a book about it.' She emails her old friend Imran - a clinical psychotherapist in London, who shares his speed dating experiences - and ex-CIA agent Charlene, source of the material for her first novel and who is now an international marketing executive with Coca-Cola.

After Arsalan arranges a Paris-Istanbul housing exchange for Claire, she enjoys discovering life by the Bosphorus. She befriends a fellow American, Sally, who works at the U.S. Consulate, and her mild-mannered husband Dave (who takes in turtles as pets and sets up a webcam for them - which will later reveal something he'd rather not have seen). When it's time to return to Paris, both Arsalan and Sally encourage Claire's meeting with him there - for different reasons. Readers get to meet all her correspondents together at the party that she hosts - and it's a hilarious one. But then Arsalan disappears from Claire's life and she's left trying to piece together what actually happened, and who pulled the strings.

Lion Eyes is quite a romp, a satisfying read that makes fun of modern mores, modern communications, and modern romance, while throwing in a hint of espionage (though more along the lines of Max Smart than 007!) It holds readers' interest, as we wonder, along with Claire, where it's all heading and which weird and wonderful characters will pop up next - on screen or in person.

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