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Life Sentences: A Novel Paperback – March 2, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This stunning stand-alone from bestseller Lippman (Baltimore Blues) examines the extraordinary power and fragility of memories. Writer Cassandra Fallows achieved critical and commercial success with an account of her Baltimore childhood growing up in the 1960s and a follow-up dealing with her adult marriages and affairs. The merely modest success of her debut novel leads her back to nonfiction and the possibility of a book about grade school classmate Calliope Jenkins. Accused of murdering her infant son, Jenkins spent seven years in prison steadfastly declining to answer any questions about the disappearance and presumed death of her son. Fallows (white) tries to reconnect with three former classmate friends (black) to compare memories of Jenkins and research her story. In the process, she discovers the gulf (partially racial) that separates her memories of events from theirs. Fallows's pursuit of Jenkins's story becomes a rich, complex journey from self-deception to self-discovery. 20-city author tour. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Bookmarks Magazine

As in much of her fiction, Life Sentences was inspired by a real-life story -- that of a Baltimore woman who spent seven years in jail for contempt of court for refusing to divulge information about her young son's disappearance. Most critics agreed that Life Sentences, which almost measures up to the career-defining What the Dead Know, is a compelling exploration of ego, friendships, family relationships, memories, racism, self-deception, and betrayals. Reviewers praised Lippman's evocation of Baltimore and her strong character development, if the latter at times overwhelms the plot. Only the Dallas Morning News had serious complaints about the lack of suspense and the attempt to address too many topics (class, race, etc.) in one novel. Otherwise, Life Sentences is another gripping offering from an accomplished author.
Copyright 2009 Bookmarks Publishing LLC --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; 1 Reprint edition (March 2, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061944882
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061944888
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #344,340 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Laura Lippman was a reporter for twenty years, including twelve years at The (Baltimore) Sun. She began writing novels while working fulltime and published seven books about "accidental PI" Tess Monaghan before leaving daily journalism in 2001. Her work has been awarded the Edgar ®, the Anthony, the Agatha, the Shamus, the Nero Wolfe, Gumshoe and Barry awards. She also has been nominated for other prizes in the crime fiction field, including the Hammett and the Macavity. She was the first-ever recipient of the Mayor's Prize for Literary Excellence and the first genre writer recognized as Author of the Year by the Maryland Library Association. Ms. Lippman grew up in Baltimore and attended city schools through ninth grade. After graduating from Wilde Lake High School in Columbia, Md., Ms. Lippman attended Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her other newspaper jobs included the Waco Tribune-Herald and the San Antonio Light. Ms. Lippman returned to Baltimore in 1989 and has lived there since.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Carrie Dunham-LaGree on May 5, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This novel featured narration by a variety of characters, but predominantly our protagonist, Cassandra Fallows, narrated. As a reader, I did not feel a connection with her. She's wonderfully articulate, introspective, and thoughtful, but I didn't find her interesting or lovable. I found the so-called mystery to be interesting enough to finish the book, but not interesting enough to make me care what happens to these characters. I expected this novel to be mostly a mystery, but I found it to be mostly about race relations surrounding the shooting of Martin Luther King, Jr. and how his death affected these characters. As a tale of race relations, it was awkward at times. It's not a bad book, but there is something about it that does not quite work. It's certainly better in theory than in practice. The idea of this book is riveting and fascinating, but the execution fell short. Still, I'm eager to read Laura Lippman's other books. She is a good writer, and I look forward to reading an actual mystery.
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45 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Richard Cumming on March 12, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This stand-alone mystery might surprise some Lippman fans. It's more about relationships than crime. The main character is a successful memoir writer who returns to her childhood circle in Baltimore to write a third memoir about a former friend who may or may not have killed her own child.

The memoirist doesn't get a warm welcome from the old friends she wrote about in her previous books. This is a detective story in that she is forced to put together the puzzle of what really happened to that child. It is not what you might expect.

There's power, politics, and passion here. Lippman writes with intelligence and a reporter's insight into the mysteries of society's ills.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Mr. August VINE VOICE on May 14, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Lippman's previous books packed more punch. The characters were better defined and their actions made sense. In this novel, Cassandra, met success as a writer of memoirs about her child and adulthood. Cassandra, a white girl, grew up in a racially diverse area of Baltimore and she surrounded herself with black friends who appeared to be dynamic but troubled. It appears she foisted herself on this cast of characters: Tisha, smart, grounded but wary, Donna, rich and elegant who appeared to manipulate lives, Fatima who loved risks as a child but did an about face as adult and Calliope, who was convicted for contempt.

She returns to Baltimore to unravel Calliope's mysterious past and find her own future - a bit corny. It is difficult to determine whether Cassandra has stretched the truth or totally misjudged her black friends, her sacrificial mother and her selfish father who is not what he appears. Cassandra is driven and she is bound and determined to discover the secrets of her old friends and parents.

Lippman's plot became confusing and lacked a resolution. For a smart girl, Cassandra seemed lacking in reality. When the truth surfaced, it was cloudy and ambiguous. I enjoyed Lippman's other books much more.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By C. Mills on August 20, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I read 2 of Laura Lippman's books before this one and I liked them both. However, this book has one fatal flaw: the heroine is boring, unlikeable, and whiney (although she apparently LOOKS fabulous, ha ha). The chapters that focus on the main character are the most uninteresting in the book. The other characters, while not entirely likeable or even sympathetic, are much more interesting -- probably because there is not so much navel-gazing among them. I pushed through this novel to the end so that I could learn the central mystery of the plot. However, the final resolution is not even remotely interesting and is a bummer pay-off for having slogged through the rest of the book. 1.5 stars.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Julie A. Schwartz on April 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I usually like Laura Lippman, and I loved her last stand-alone novel, What the Dead Know. But in this book, the characters don't seem real, and are pretty uniformly unlikeable. I don't feel any connection to them or any reason to care about them. Cassandra is particularly unsympathetic, ghoulishly prying into long-ago happenings of other people's lives and having casual affairs with married men. Are we supposed to admire her? I'm giving this book away before I've even finished reading it.
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24 of 29 people found the following review helpful By LynnB on April 23, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Several of us bought this book for our book club. The three of us who read it before the others, decided to scrap the book for that month and pick an entirely different one. Life Sentences was extremely blah. I kept saying to myself, it's got to get better; it's got to get better but it most certainly did not. There was no mystery, no twists or turns, no unexpected ending and nothing to hold ones interest.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Laurel-Rain Snow TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 23, 2009
Format: Hardcover
The role of memory and perspective shape this tale of a writer - Cassandra Fallows is known for her memoirs about her childhood experiences - with details called into question by some of the other characters about whom she wrote. Cassandra was the white girl with several elegant and privileged black friends - Tisha, Donna and Fatima. Their memories of events were quite different from her perspective on things. When she reconnects with them many years later, in order to put together the details of another story she is working on, she learns about these discrepancies.

Cassandra grew up in Baltimore with her intellectual father Cedric, a classics professor, and her less-colorful and almost "boring" mother Lenore. Her parents separated after the riots of 1968, when Cedric fell in love with Annie, a black woman he supposedly saved from being raped during the fracas.

Now Cassandra, enjoying the fruits of her success as a writer, takes on the project of writing about another school friend - Calliope Jenkins - who was jailed after the supposed death of her youngest son, because she refused to talk or reveal where he might be. He is either dead or missing. She maintains her silence through seven long years until she is released from prison. She only talks to Cassandra - finally - when a discovery during research reveals several secrets and the truth hiding behind a cover of powerful people protecting their own betrayals.

As old lies and betrayals surface, Cassandra finally begins to put together the truth in her own life - discrepancies in memory were not wholly responsible for the wrong details in her story. She simply had not had all of the facts.

How will the "truth" alter her life now? Will she correct the misconceptions of the past?
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