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Life Sentences

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

Complex Plot Neatly Resolved

Cassandra Fallows, a successful author, is casting about for a new project. She has written two well-received memoirs about her childhood and her two marriages, and then a novel that was panned by the critics. At loose ends, she hears a story about a woman in New Orle...
Cassandra Fallows, a successful author, is casting about for a new project. She has written two well-received memoirs about her childhood and her two marriages, and then a novel that was panned by the critics. At loose ends, she hears a story about a woman in New Orleans whose baby is missing and the police have been unsuccessful in either finding the child or convincing the mother to cooperate. A sad enough story, but the next words make Cassandra sit up and take notice. The announcer refers the story back to a similiar one that occurred in Baltimore years before. That mother, Calliope Jenkins, had reported a child missing and spent seven years in prison rather than telling anyone what happened.

Cassandra is entranced. She had grown up in Baltimore and in fact, knew Calliope or Callie, as they called her, as a childhood schoolmate. Cassandra had been one of the few white children at a local school and had become part of a group of girls, all of whom were African-American. Cassandra had been grateful to be in their group. There was Donna, the child of a prominent and politically successful family. Trisha was the go-getter and leader who kept the group together. Fatima was from a poorer family, but blossomed sexually long before the others. Then there was Calliope, whom the group nicknamed Callie, and who hung arond the edges of their group, but rarely spoke or participated. She was an enigma to those surrounding her even then.

Cassandra was the child of an English professor and a stay at home mom. Her father had walked out on her mother and her when he met another woman that he claimed was the love of his life. As the girls grew up, they went to different high schools and lost touch.

Cassandra is determined to go back to Baltimore and use this story as her next book. She will write about these childhood friendships and tell what really happened to Callie's baby. When she gets there, however, she quickly finds it will not be an easy job. No one is eager to talk to her or renew old friendships. She is rebuffed by all the other girls in the group, all of whom insist they have no idea where to find Callie and let Cassandra know that they wouldn't help her if they could as they don't want to be the focus of a book.

Cassandra presses on. Can she find the truth that has been hidden for more than twenty years? As she pushes foward, she discovers that everyone involved has secrets, including some hard truths about her own childhood that she hasn't faced or known before.

Laura Lippman has written an intriguing book. The characters are portrayed deftly, and remind us of how difficult it is to renew old friendships when life has moved us on to different pathways as adults. The plot twists and turns and pulls the reader in quickly. This book is recommended for all readers.

posted by sandiek on June 14, 2010

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Most Helpful Critical Review

2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

On and On and On.......

This was the most boring of Lippman's novels. No interesting characters, the plot was shabby, and there was no mystery to the ending. Lippman can do better than this. It certainly was original, no other author has come up with such a mundane read.

posted by terrylazar on May 4, 2009

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  • Posted June 14, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Complex Plot Neatly Resolved

    Cassandra Fallows, a successful author, is casting about for a new project. She has written two well-received memoirs about her childhood and her two marriages, and then a novel that was panned by the critics. At loose ends, she hears a story about a woman in New Orleans whose baby is missing and the police have been unsuccessful in either finding the child or convincing the mother to cooperate. A sad enough story, but the next words make Cassandra sit up and take notice. The announcer refers the story back to a similiar one that occurred in Baltimore years before. That mother, Calliope Jenkins, had reported a child missing and spent seven years in prison rather than telling anyone what happened.

    Cassandra is entranced. She had grown up in Baltimore and in fact, knew Calliope or Callie, as they called her, as a childhood schoolmate. Cassandra had been one of the few white children at a local school and had become part of a group of girls, all of whom were African-American. Cassandra had been grateful to be in their group. There was Donna, the child of a prominent and politically successful family. Trisha was the go-getter and leader who kept the group together. Fatima was from a poorer family, but blossomed sexually long before the others. Then there was Calliope, whom the group nicknamed Callie, and who hung arond the edges of their group, but rarely spoke or participated. She was an enigma to those surrounding her even then.

    Cassandra was the child of an English professor and a stay at home mom. Her father had walked out on her mother and her when he met another woman that he claimed was the love of his life. As the girls grew up, they went to different high schools and lost touch.

    Cassandra is determined to go back to Baltimore and use this story as her next book. She will write about these childhood friendships and tell what really happened to Callie's baby. When she gets there, however, she quickly finds it will not be an easy job. No one is eager to talk to her or renew old friendships. She is rebuffed by all the other girls in the group, all of whom insist they have no idea where to find Callie and let Cassandra know that they wouldn't help her if they could as they don't want to be the focus of a book.

    Cassandra presses on. Can she find the truth that has been hidden for more than twenty years? As she pushes foward, she discovers that everyone involved has secrets, including some hard truths about her own childhood that she hasn't faced or known before.

    Laura Lippman has written an intriguing book. The characters are portrayed deftly, and remind us of how difficult it is to renew old friendships when life has moved us on to different pathways as adults. The plot twists and turns and pulls the reader in quickly. This book is recommended for all readers.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 30, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Laura Lippman provides a deep character study that focuses on the tricks of memories

    Author Cassandra Fallows¿ nonfiction work received critical acclaim and was best-sellers. Her venture into novels did okay, but not near the level of her memoirs of growing up in Baltimore in the turbulent 1960s or her revelations into her relationships; two failed marriages and a zillion affairs. <BR/><BR/>She considers writing a biography of her elementary school colleague notorious African-American Calliope Jenkins who two decades ago was accused of murdering her infant son. Jenkins has not answered one question on the infanticide charge. A Caucasian Cassandra looks up three African-American former classmates of both her and Jenkins in order to obtain their memories of her subject¿s childhood. However, she is taken aback as their recollections are Grand Canyonesque apart from hers.<BR/><BR/>Allowing Tess Monoghan to take a well deserved breather but remaining in Baltimore, Laura Lippman provides a deep character study that focuses on the tricks of memories. The gap between what Fallows recalls from their school days vs. the three interviewees is oceanic in size as relativity of perspective surface. Readers will enjoy this strong psychological tale that spotlights the tricks the mind employs to conceal the negative memories; especially those in which the person is more a passive observer rather than directly actively involved.<BR/><BR/>Harriet Klausner

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 28, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    ENJOYED!

    Cassandra Fallows, a successful author of two memoirs, is trying to bounce back after an unsuccessful turn as a novelist. A memoir! Brilliant idea, Cassandra thinks. Not such a good idea after all as of her research reveals things about herself that she really didn't want to know.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 4, 2009

    This is really a poor example of Lippman's work

    The characters were dull. There was no person that was sympathetic. Most were predictable and had few interesting qualities. They were bland bland bland. Reading this book was like eating a white bread mashed potato sandwich. I finished it because I was waiting for a decent ending but was disappointed when I turned the last page. I did breathe a sigh of relief when it ended. The pain was over.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 4, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    On and On and On.......

    This was the most boring of Lippman's novels. No interesting characters, the plot was shabby, and there was no mystery to the ending. Lippman can do better than this. It certainly was original, no other author has come up with such a mundane read.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 5, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Good but not as good as I expected.

    With two highly successful memoirs under her belt author Cassandra Fallows latest work of fiction falls flat. Knowing that there is nothing else in her life to write about she is left contemplating her next step as a writer when she hears a news story that she believes could be the subject of her next non-fiction bestseller.

    In New Orleans a child has disappeared and his mother refuses to tell anyone what happened to him. The news story compares this case to a case in Baltimore where Calliope Jenkins once spent seven years in prison for failing to reveal what happened to her missing infant son. As it turns out Cassandra and Callie where once friends beginning when they met elementary school along with a group of girls including Donna, Tisha and Fatima.

    Returning home to Baltimore to investigate the story Cassandra faces resentment and bitterness from Tisha, Donna and Fatima each for a different reason but all of it having to do with her first successful memoir and Cassandra's recounting of their experiences. Finding Callie and learning the truth about what happened all those years ago is a lot tougher than she originally thought but she's determined to make it happen.

    I was hoping for more of a mystery read similar to What the Dead Know but Life Sentences is more a book about relationships and dealing with memories than it is a suspense story. It takes a long look at family interactions, racial issues, friendship bonds and how each are dealt with by different characters in the story.

    I enjoyed the book overall but was a little disappointed by the ending. The book was about 2/3 complete before Callie's story starts to be told and by the time the truth about her missing son is revealed it's more of a let down than a satisfying ending. I recommend it more for general fiction readers than suspense lovers.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 15, 2010

    Not Lippman's best work

    I have enjoyed all of Lippman's Tess Monaghan books for years. However, this book is a challenge to read. The characters are not identified clearly, and the book is confusing in it's direction and plot. Lippman is a better writer than is shown in this work. There are many inferences used in the writing style, but it just seems to add to the confusion about the characters and plot. I found myself a third of the way into the book and still wondered what it was about.

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  • Posted April 17, 2010

    Somewhat interesting book.

    The lead character delves into her past and comes to some different conclusions on the way things were. The plot is interesting as each of her former schoolmates have different versions of events in their past. However, I never felt any empathy with the lead character as she seemed to lack any depth. This book was just OK with me, not great and not terrible.

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  • Posted April 9, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Just a bit too confusing.

    I really liked the plot and the main character, and the look at her relationships with her parents and with her childhood friends.

    The mystery was interesting and (mostly) well plotted and revealed. The question was whether Cassandra's childhood friend Calliope really killed her child, and if so, why?

    I've read several books recently featuring writers as characters, and I've been enjoying them. Cassandra is no exception. I enjoyed her reflections on her past, present and future and how they interrelate. Her approach to investigation also worked well for me in the story.

    The other characters were overall a neutral for me. They were at times compelling and at others overdrawn. In general they didn't pull me out the story, and so I could forgive them more flaws than I noticed.

    The problems I had with the book had to do with the delivery. It felt to me there was an effort to be Literary, and it distracted from the story.

    A prime example of this was the wandering point of view. When done well, I like when I'm shown what different characters are thinking and feeling about the events in a book. I did like that aspect of Life Sentences, although I sometimes had to pull myself out of the story to figure out who a particular chapter was focusing on.

    What I didn't get were the shifts between first and third person. I'm left with the feeling that I should go back and figure out why the POV shifted when it did, and what it meant. When reading, I found it distracted me from the story.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 17, 2010

    I Didn't Get It

    This novel just didn't work for me in so many ways. It was difficult to find a character to identify with, let alone sympathize with. Cassandra was self-absorbed and--for this reader at least--if I can't feel any empathy toward the main character, it's a tough uphill climb. I also felt frustrated at the end of the book because I had no idea why Donna and Reg's adopted daughter Aubrey was critical to Callie's finally talking about her dead son for whom she spent several years in prison. Aubrey couldn't have been Callie's child and not the child of her first child that was taken away. The time frame just doesn't work. So who was she? I had to actually look at a spoiler thread on a Life Sentences Facebook page to find out the answer. And even then I was disappointed. I had gotten the impression that the fact that Aubrey was a girl was critical to the story. Not. At least I felt somewhat relieved to find others were left clueless at the end of the novel as well. Lastly, there were two places in the novel where the author interchanges Cassandra and Callie's names as if she had them mixed up in her head. It might have been better to give them more different names. I've never read any other books by Laura Lippman, and I've often discovered that while I love one book by an author, another by the same author does nothing for me, so I'll reserve judgement on her other novels. Then again, Life Sentences left me not in any rush to go out and read another of her books right away.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 3, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Reviewed for Midwest Book Review

    Author Cassandra Fallows, with two successful memoirs behind her, tries her hand at fiction, which falls flat. When Cassandra reads about a former school friend jailed for contempt for not revealing the whereabouts of her baby's body, Cassandra gets the idea to write about her childhood and her friends, and the events that lead them to their present-day lives. She returns to Baltimore to interview her family and friends, only to be met with resistance. Calliope Jenkins, the woman accused of murdering her baby and hiding his body, has disappeared and no one wants to talk about where she is or what happened. As Cassandra digs deeper into the past, painful truths about her own life and those of her friends are revealed which could impact their lives in a negative way if disclosed.

    Laura Lippman, known for the Tess Monaghan series, is adroit at character development, slowly peeling away layers of persona as the book progresses. Life Sentences is a compelling read, exploring the dynamics of childhood friendships and family relationships.

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  • Posted June 13, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Another great one from Laura Lippman

    Laura Lippman does it again. She is such a great writer. She keeps you guessing until the end, wondering who really did it.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 26, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Loved it!

    Laura Lippman is one of my favorite authors and Life Sentences is one of her best. Richly developed characters, intricate plot, satisfying ending. I highly recommend it.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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