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Life Sentences: A Novel by Laura Lippman
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Life Sentences: A Novel (edition 2010)

by Laura Lippman

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5523418,146 (3.25)39
Member:seasonsoflove
Title:Life Sentences: A Novel
Authors:Laura Lippman
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Tags:Mystery

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Life Sentences by Laura Lippman

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Deeply satisfying novel with heavy mystery elements concerning memory an the act of writing, father/daughter relationships, childhood friendships and race relations in Baltimore. ( )
  daniellnic | Sep 25, 2013 |
Some childhood events are so remarkable (or horrific) that they can dramatically impact the self-image of the adult that child will become. But what most forget is that, whatever the experience, they were children when the events happened, and they experienced them through the eyes and perceptions of children. So what happens if what they remember is not the way it really happened? Whose fault is it? Cassandra Fallows is about to find out.

Cassandra grew up in one of Baltimore's more racially mixed neighborhoods where her best friends Donna, Tisha, and Fatima, were all black. Calliope Jenkins, another little girl, also black, tried to make her own way into their inner circle but was only grudgingly accepted now and then. Now the girls have largely gone their separate ways and Cassandra has not seen any of them for years. This, however, has not kept her from using her childhood memories to earn her living.

Cassandra's two memoirs have, in fact, earned her a very nice living and she has every reason to believe that the royalty checks will keep coming for a long time. Her frank willingness to expose herself and anyone who has ever impacted her life to public scrutiny has made the books long-term bestsellers. Perhaps overconfident, Cassandra decided to turn her pen toward her first novel - with, at best, mediocre results.

Now she and her publisher agree that Cassandra needs a new memoir, one with a fresh hook - and Cassandra believes that the little girl who wanted to be part of her crowd all those years ago can provide the hook she needs. Calliope Jenkins spent seven years in jail for contempt of court, accused of killing her infant son but refusing, the whole time, to answer a single question regarding the whereabouts of the boy. Finally, the court was forced to release her even though the mystery has never been solved.

Cassandra, believing she has found her next bestseller, is back in Baltimore where she hopes to shake things up enough to get at the truth of what happened to the baby boy. But if she thinks it will be easy, she is in for a big surprise. None of her old friends are happy to see her, Calliope Jenkins is nowhere to be found, and what she is about to learn about herself might just turn her bestselling memoirs into works of fiction.

Bottom Line: Life Sentences, based on a real life incident in Baltimore, is an interesting mystery but, as usual in a Laura Lippman novel, the real fun comes from immersing oneself in the relationships between the book's intriguing characters. Lippman fans will not be disappointed in this 2009 novel. ( )
  SamSattler | Jun 15, 2013 |
A book that counts for both Murder and Mayhem Month and my Books Off the Shelf challenge, this was not the best mystery I've ever read, but it was a good book nonetheless.

A memoir writer who's attempt to write fiction has meant with much criticism, Cassandra decides to reclaim her writing glory by solving the mystery surrounding a former classmate. Calliope was accused of murdering her baby, but rather than respond, she pleaded the fifth, and spent seven years in jail in complete silence.

As Cassandra attempts to discover the truth, she learns more than she ever wanted to, including a very difficult truth about her father.

While the solution to the mystery itself was somewhat disappointing, the truths Cassandra learns about her past, her parents, and her former friends are powerful. Lippman shows how the smallest half-truth, the most minuscule action or inaction, can have far-reaching consequences. ( )
  seasonsoflove | May 26, 2012 |
As contemporary literature, Life Sentences is actually quite good. Lippman does a wonderfully thorough job of interrogating the nature of truth, lies, and memory--from the secrets we keep, to the lies we tell ourselves, to the relative value and impact of the unvarnished truth. As mysteries go, this isn't a very satisfying one, but it makes up for it in other surprises. This would be an excellent book club book, as I imagine it would foster a great deal of interesting discussion in a group. ( )
  TheBentley | Jun 15, 2011 |
Laura Lippman's "Life Sentences" explores concepts of truth, memory and lies as bestselling memoirist Cassandra returns to her Baltimore home and lands knee-deep in her own past, about which she has written much and understood little.

The chance overhearing of a news broadcast mentioning the long-ago case of one of Cassandra's girlhood acquaintances, sent to jail for the death of her infant son, sends Cassandra -- who knows a good source of income when it sticks to her Manolos -- scrambling to find Calliope Jenkins. Some of the characters introduced along the way are finely portrayed, making Cassandra herself an even less appealing figure. That and my inability to believe that the fictional memoir excerpted between chapters would actually sell enough copies to make Cassandra a wealthy woman leads to the rather wan three-star rating.

Still, the deceptively simple title, with its many layers and the underlying question of the book -- what gives someone the right to tell a story that can never be about just one person? -- provided enough pondering to keep me going until the somewhat hurried and not the least bit convincing end. ( )
  wortklauberlein | May 13, 2011 |
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Epigraph
I detest the man that hides one thing in the depths of his heart, and speaks for another. ~The Iliad
Dedication
In loving memory of James Crumley, 1939-2008. Take my word. It was fun.
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"Well, " the bookstore manager said, "it is Valentine's Day."
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Book description
Author Cassandra Fallows has achieved remarkable success by baring her life on the page. Her two widely popular memoirs continue to sell briskly, acclaimed for their brutal, unexpurgated candor about friends, family, lovers—and herself. But now, after a singularly unsuccessful stab at fiction, Cassandra believes she may have found the story that will enable her triumphant return to nonfiction.

When Cassandra was a girl, growing up in a racially diverse middle-class neighborhood in Baltimore, her best friends were all black: elegant, privileged Donna; sharp, shrewd Tisha; wild and worldly Fatima. A fifth girl orbited their world—a shy, quiet, unobtrusive child named Calliope Jenkins—who, years later, would be accused of killing her infant son. Yet the boy's body was never found and Calliope's unrelenting silence on the subject forced a judge to jail her for contempt. For seven years, Calliope refused to speak and the court was finally forced to let her go. Cassandra believes this still unsolved real-life mystery, largely unknown outside Baltimore, could be her next bestseller.

But her homecoming and latest journey into the past will not be welcomed by everyone, especially by her former friends, who are unimpressed with Cassandra's success—and are insistent on their own version of their shared history. And by delving too deeply into Calliope's dark secrets, Cassandra may inadvertently unearth a few of her own—forcing her to reexamine the memories she holds most precious, as the stark light of truth illuminates a mother's pain, a father's betrayal . . . and what really transpired on a terrible day that changed not only a family but an entire country.
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A writer discovers the truth about her past in this haunting and multi-layered thriller.

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