31 Jul 2019

Review - The Balance of Heaven and Earth by Laurence Westwood

Title: The Balance of Heaven and Earth

Author: Laurence Westwood


I have been unable to write a judgement that does not seem to offend my conscience, or indeed Heaven, in some manner. Because I do not wish to influence your thinking unduly, I have destroyed all my personal papers and notes in regard to this dispute, preferring you to start afresh. Forgive me for this. All I ask is that you consider and examine Jade Moon most carefully before coming to a decision. I find her fascinating and unsettling in equal measure, and fear the consequences of a wrongful judgement. I will say no more.

My sincerest best wishes to you and your family,

Magistrate Qian
Fifth District, Chengdu Prefecture
1st day of the 2nd Moon, 1085

So ends the letter of welcome (and of warning) to Magistrate Zhu, newly arrived in the remote border town of Tranquil Mountain. He has travelled far from his extensive family estates on the outskirts of Kaifeng – the glorious Song Dynasty capital – hoping to find atonement for past mistakes.

Yet he quickly discovers that Tranquil Mountain is anything but tranquil. The town is beset with simmering tensions since the death of his predecessor. Before Magistrate Zhu even has time to accustom himself to his inexperienced and wayward constabulary and the lowliness of his new surroundings, there is a mysterious murder, rumours of ghosts and blood-thirsty bandits out on the streets, and a disturbing kidnapping to solve – as well as the tragic and tangled legal circumstances of the local heroine Jade Moon to unravel.

For the balance of Heaven and Earth to be maintained, and to prevent catastrophe coming to Tranquil Mountain, Magistrate Zhu is well aware that not a single injustice can be allowed to stand. As he struggles to reach the correct judgements, he realises he has no choice but to offer up his career and perhaps even his own life for the greater good. And, in so doing, he discovers that as Jade Moon’s fate rests in his hands, so his fate ultimately rests in hers.

My Thoughts:

 "You should understand this, Senior scribe Xu, that any injustice, great or small, moves Heaven and Earth out of balance."

This book became an innocent victim of my reading slump I'm afraid; it took me ages to read it, but let me tell you, it wasn't the book's fault at all *points at herself*. The Balance of Heaven and Earth is a historical small town mystery/crime novel well worthy of praise, so let me do just that.

This novel is unlike anything I've read before, mainly because I'm not very familiar with Chinese history, but I'm always happy to learn something new, and for this reason 'visiting' a 11th century small Chinese town was a real treat for me. The characters are so well introduced and developed that you can't help but welcome them as friends after a while. 

Jade Moon is considered a hero in Tranquil Mountain, and still, her fate is quite uncertain when Magistrate Zhu arrives to town to fill in his new position and administer the law. They both have a troubled past and their future oddly lies in the hand of one another.

Not surprisingly women had quite a vulnerable position in Chinese society too a thousand years ago and it could easily happen that a female child was sold to a rich family to entertain the sons of the household. Jade Moon if facing the bonds of concubinage unless Magistrate Zhu is willing and capable of finding a hole in the law that would allow her to gain her freedom back.

Jade Moon is a fighter, the daughter of a 'barbarian' and a Chinese mother, a curiosity for the Chinese people for her fierce and passionate nature. It was quite eye opening to read about what was considered Chinese-ness at the time. To be Chinese was to follow the traditions, that you were born on the same piece of land didn't instantly mean you were Chinese. The cultural distinction was quite emphasized between these two set of people, the Chinese and the barbarians.
"If a law opresses the people, how can it be called a law?"

Another interesting topic in the book was the law and Magistrate Zhu's approach to certain questions related to it. Is the law always right? What if it makes people suffer unnecessarily? Who should make the law? Can it be overlooked if it is morally unacceptable for the individual? Such interesting musings to read about!

The secondary characters were very entertaining too: the constables; Horse, the bright young man who matures a lot during the story, the good-for-nothing Deng brothers, Little Ox with his strength and bravery, Leaf, the little kid who they always want to send off to bed, but is always ready to fight... Senior Scribe Xu, the kind old man who was always on Jade Moon's side was also one of my favourites.

The writing style is very steady, it's flowing well and is easy to read. The story is a bit slow burn, but I like this kind, if you do too, I'm sure it will satisfy you.

If you're on the lookout for something different at the moment, give The Balance of Heaven and Earth a try.

28 Jul 2019

Weekend Wrap-up #14

The Sunday post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Reviewer. It's a chance to share news, a post to recap the past week on your blog and showcase books and things you have received.

I'm thankful we are getting closer to the end of July because summer always brings tougher days at work for me (so many flight cancellations) and so I can't wait for it to be autumn already. Once month to go...

Yesterday we ordered our wedding rings. We've been to several jewellery shops and the choice wasn't easy but we are pleased with the ones we picked in the end (I'll show you Lovelies, along with some wedding pics when we get there).

Yesterday I was off so we  could at last binge the third season of La Casa de Papel (Money Heist). It's one of my favourite Spanish shows at the moment, the characters are to die for and there's so much action in it, I'm always at the edge of my seat while watching. Also, I ship El Profesor and Raquel hard.

I've finished reading The Balance of Heaven and Earth by Laurance Westwood yesterday, my review is coming next week. I'm planning to finish Lady Audley's Secret soon.

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews that makes it possible to share with other bookworms what books you added to your shelves physical or virtual during the week.

Physical Books:

Title: De Profundis, The Ballad of the Reading Gaol & Other Writings

Author: Oscar Wilde

Synopsis: De Profundis is Oscar Wilde's eloquent and bitter reproach from prison to his lover, Lord Alfred Douglas ("Bosie"). In an extended letter, Wilde accuses Lord Alfred of selfishness, shallowness, parasitism, greed, extravagance, tantrums, pettiness, and neglect. He contrasts this behaviour towards him with the selfless devotion of his close friend, Robert Ross, who became Wilde's literary executor, gave the work its title (from the opening of Psalm 130) and who published a shortened version of it in 1905.

The Ballad of Reading Gaol is a deeply moving and characteristically generous poem on the horrors of prison life. It was published anonymously in 1898, signed only "C.3.3.", Wilde's cell number in Reading Gaol. Wilde himself, released from his two-year prison sentence in 1897, was at the time living in France on the charity of friends and under the pseudonym Sebastian Melmoth.

This collection also includes the essay "The Soul of Men Under Socialism", Wilde's most outspoken defence of anarchy, and two of his Platonic dialogues, "The Decay of Lying" and "The Critic as Artist" in which he puts forward his provocatively witty ideas about art and this social role of the artist.

Title: My Dear Hamilton

Author: Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie


A general’s daughter…

Coming of age on the perilous frontier of revolutionary New York, Elizabeth Schuyler champions the fight for independence. And when she meets Alexander Hamilton, Washington’s penniless but passionate aide-de-camp, she’s captivated by the young officer’s charisma and brilliance. They fall in love, despite Hamilton’s bastard birth and the uncertainties of war.

A founding father’s wife...

But the union they create—in their marriage and the new nation—is far from perfect. From glittering inaugural balls to bloody street riots, the Hamiltons are at the center of it all—including the political treachery of America’s first sex scandal, which forces Eliza to struggle through heartbreak and betrayal to find forgiveness.

The last surviving light of the Revolution…

When a duel destroys Eliza’s hard-won peace, the grieving widow fights her husband’s enemies to preserve Alexander’s legacy. But long-buried secrets threaten everything Eliza believes about her marriage and her own legacy. Questioning her tireless devotion to the man and country that have broken her heart, she’s left with one last battle—to understand the flawed man she married and the imperfect union he could never have created without her…


Title: Screamcatcher

Author: Christy J. Breedlove


When seventeen-year-old Jory Pike cannot shake the hellish nightmares of her parent’s deaths, she turns to an old family heirloom, a dream catcher. Even though she’s half blood Chippewa, Jory thinks old Indian lore is so yesterday, but she’s willing to give it a try. However, the dream catcher has had its fill of nightmares from an ancient and violent past. After a sleepover party, and during one of Jory’s most horrific dream episodes, the dream catcher implodes, sucking Jory and her three friends into its own world of trapped nightmares. They’re in an alternate universe—locked inside of an insane web world. How can they find the center of the web, where all good things are allowed to pass?

What has happened to you this week? What are you reading right now?

Please leave your weekend post links below so I can visit your site.

23 Jul 2019

Deckled Edges

This post was inspired by something I've seen today on Neil Gaiman's twitter. 

I own three books with edges like this, how did I not know this phenomenon has a name? Or why has it never occurred to me to check why a book would have such edges??

When I googled it I learned that until the beginning of the 1800s (and in many cases after that too) they made sheets of paper individually on a deckle, which was used to limit the size of each sheet, but it couldn't cut the edges clean off, therefore they stayed rough. So in most cases old books have uneven pages like these.

It makes sense, since all the books with deckled edges that I own were published in the beginning of the 20th century (and these are some of my most treasured possessions).

L'Aiglon by Edmond Rostand

Poems by Oscar Wilde

Did you guys know about this phenomenon, why some books have feathered edges? Do you own any such copies?

20 Jul 2019

Weekend Wrap-up #13

The Sunday post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Reviewer. It's a chance to share news, a post to recap the past week on your blog and showcase books and things you have received.

Long time no see, I know, but please forgive me, lovelies, the wedding bells are ringing for me and I've got much to arrange (the date is September 14). I've also been in a huuuuge reading slump that seems to be leaving me these days, fingers crossed. 

Right now I'm determined to finish The Balance of Heaven and Earth by Laurence Westwood, that I put aside for a while because of all the things that have been going on in my life recently, but that I enjoyed a lot when I still had time to read. I've also picked up Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, a classic I've been eyeing for a while now.

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews that makes it possible to share with other bookworms what books you added to your shelves physical or virtual during the week.

Physical Books:

Title: Cleopatra's Daughter

Author: Michelle Moran


At the dawn of the Roman Empire, when tyranny ruled, a daughter of Egypt and a son of Rome found each other...

Selene's legendary parents are gone. Her country taken, she has been brought to the city of Rome in chains, with only her twin brother, Alexander, to remind her of home and all she once had.

Living under the watchful eyes of the ruling family, Selene and her brother must quickly learn how to be Roman – and how to be useful to Caesar. She puts her artistry to work, in the hope of staying alive and being allowed to return to Egypt. Before long, however, she is distracted by the young and handsome heir to the empire...

When the elusive ‘Red Eagle' starts calling for the end of slavery, Selene and Alexander are in grave danger. Will this mysterious figure bring their liberation, or their demise?

Title: Lincoln in the Bardo

Author: George Saunders


February 1862. The Civil War is less than one year old. The fighting has begun in earnest, and the nation has begun to realize it is in for a long, bloody struggle. Meanwhile, President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son, Willie, lies upstairs in the White House, gravely ill. In a matter of days, despite predictions of a recovery, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. “My poor boy, he was too good for this earth,” the president says at the time. “God has called him home.” Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returned to the crypt several times alone to hold his boy’s body.

From that seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of its realistic, historical framework into a thrilling, supernatural realm both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself in a strange purgatory, where ghosts mingle, gripe, commiserate, quarrel, and enact bizarre acts of penance. Within this transitional state—called, in the Tibetan tradition, the bardo—a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie's soul.

Title: Circe

Author: Madeline Miller

 In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe has neither the look nor the voice of divinity, and is scorned and rejected by her kin. Increasingly isolated, she turns to mortals for companionship, leading her to discover a power forbidden to the gods: witchcraft.

When love drives Circe to cast a dark spell, wrathful Zeus banishes her to the remote island of Aiaia. There she learns to harness her occult craft, drawing strength from nature. But she will not always be alone; many are destined to pass through Circe's place of exile, entwining their fates with hers. The messenger god, Hermes. The craftsman, Daedalus. A ship bearing a golden fleece. And wily Odysseus, on his epic voyage home.

There is danger for a solitary woman in this world, and Circe's independence draws the wrath of men and gods alike. To protect what she holds dear, Circe must decide whether she belongs with the deities she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

Please leave  link to your weekend post below so I can go and visit your blog. 
Happy weekend! 

19 Jul 2019

Book Beginnings and the Friday 56 #33

Book Beginnings on Friday and The Friday 56 are weekly memes hosted by Rose City Reader and Freda's Voice.


Book Beginnings: Share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires. 
The Friday 56: Grab a book, turn to page 56 or 56% in you eReader. Find any sentence (not spoilery) and reflect on it if you want.

This week in the spotlight:
by Mary Elizabeth Braddon 


In this outlandish, outrageous triumph of Scandal fiction, a new Lady Audley arrives at the manor: young, beautiful - and very mysterious. Why does she behave so strangely? What, exactly, is the dark secret this seductive outsider carries with her?

A huge success in the nineteenth century, the book revels in an anti-heroine - with her good looks and hidden past - who embodied perfectly the concerns of the Victorian age with morality and madness.

Book Beginning:

It lay low down in a hollow, rich with fine old timber and luxuriant pastures; and you came upon it through an avenue of limes, bordered on either side by meadows, over the high hedges of which the cattle looked inquisitively at you as you passed, wondering, perhaps, what you wanted; for there was no thoroughfare, and unless you were going to the Court you had no business there at all.

A good long description of English countryside as an opening just does the trick for me - every time.

The Friday 56:

'I shall write to my cousin Alicia to-day, George' the young barrister said, upon this very 30th of August . 'Do you know that the day after to-morrow is the 1st of September? I shall write and tell her that we will both run down to the Court for a week's shooting.'

'No, no, Bob: go by yourself; they don't want me, and I'd rather–'
'Bury yourself in Fig-tree Court, with no company but my dogs and canaries! No, George, you shall do nothing of the kind!'
'But I don't care for shooting.'

'And do you suppose I care for it?' cried Robert, with charming naiveté. 'Why, man, I don't know a partridge from a pigeon, and it might be the 1st of April instead of the 1st of September for aught I care.'

They are young and rich and boooored. 

Which book have you featured in your Friday post today? 
Leave a link below so I can visit your blog!