Rules for Thieves by Alexandra Ott

Thieves have been rather popular in middle grade fantasy fiction for the past few years. The “thieves” are usually Oliver Twist or Artful Dodger types, lovable scapegraces who come out of poverty and sometimes end up as princes or kings or long lost sons of rich families. And mostly the thieves are boys. (Megan Whalen Turner’s Thief series, Jonathan Auxier’s Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, The Dungeoneers by John David Anderson, The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen, Jupiter Pirates series by Jason Fry, Chronicles of Egg by Geoff Rodkey, and many more that I’m not thinking of, I’m sure.)

Twelve year old Alli Rosco fits the prototype in some ways. She’s an orphan who never really suited any of the many families looking to adopt, but she didn’t like any of them either. Her mother abandoned her on the orphanage doorstep at the age of three, and Alli has been trying ever since to forget her mother and the brother who didn’t get sent to the orphanage. And she’s also been trying to escape from the orphanage, from any adoptive parents foolish enough to take her home for a trial run, from all of the rules and fences that orphanage life is all about.

But when Alli does escape, she finds that life on the streets is not so easy. And she learns that she can’t trust anyone, but also she can’t live without trusting someone. In fact, Alli must trust a thief, maybe even become a thief, if she is going to survive. She may have to commit herself to follow the rules of the Thieves’ Guild if she wants to remain free of the orphanage, but is that a trade-off she’s willing to make?

Alli is spunky, independent, resourceful, and outspoken, but she also has her own code of conduct that gets tested and crowded by the necessities of survival on the streets. At first, she’s not sure she should steal at all, but she soon realizes that in order to eat she will have to take food from market stalls. The trash cans are not an adequate source of nourishment. Then, Alli get caught in a situation in which she must choose to join the Thieves Guild and become a professional thief or choose to die a slow and painful death. She chooses the Guild, but not without some qualms. What is all of this thieving doing to her soul?

This debut novel by an Oklahoma author has a lot of action and character development, but it also tries to deal with the deeper questions inherent in a story where thieves are the protagonists, the “good guys” to some extent. Is it really fine to steal from the rich, just not the poor? How do you decide who’s rich and who’s poor? Is violence or at least the threat of violence an inexorable part of being a thief? If so, where does one draw the line? Do haughty, selfish rich people deserve to die protecting their valuables? If they do, is it the thief’s fault or the owner’s? Is there “always a price” for everything you get in life? What if someone else ends up paying the price for your survival?

Perhaps the sequel to Rules for Thieves, Shadow Thieves, will answer some of those questions as Alli “must risk everything to save her new family from a rogue organization that is threatening the Thieves Guild’s existence—and the lives of all its members.” I’m looking forward to reading it when it comes out in June, 2018.

12 Children’s Books from Around the World to Read in 2018

My Children’s Books Around the World project has been languishing somewhat. It’s not always easy to get one’s hand on the books, sometimes necessarily in translation, in order to actually read them.

Here are 12 books I’d like to go ahead and read this year:

Blinky Bill by Dorothy Wall. (Australia)

The Boundary Riders by Joan Phipson. (Australia)

Owls in the Family by Farley Mowat. (Canada)

The Horse Without a Head/ A Hundred Million Francs by Paul Berna. (France)

A Girl Named Disaster by Nancy Farmer. (Mozambique)

Simple National Slovak Tales by Pavol Dobsinsky (Slovakia)

Jungle Doctor by Paul White. (Tanzania)

Children of the River by Linda Crew. (Cambodia)

It’s a Jungle Out There! by Ron Snell. (Peru)

The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis. (Afghanistan)

The Storyteller’s Beads by Jane Kurtz. (Ethiopia)

The Princess and the Lion by Elizabeth Coatsworth. (Abyssinia/Ethiopia)

All of these, except for the Slovak tales, I have in my library, ready to be read.

I also have a separate list of British children’s books that I’d like to read this year and also a list of books about India (mostly adult), a country I’d like to focus on in 2018. Stay tuned for reviews and comments on all of these as the year progresses.

Wanted: Immigrants from ********

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

This is America.

We invite and welcome refugees who are fleeing from impoverished circumstances or from oppressive governments or from cruel persecution.

We want the tired and poor and wretched and homeless to come to America where they can rest and breathe and work and live and worship and add their skills and imagination and industry to further themselves and their families and to build up this country and make it truly great. We want all of those who with good intentions and noble dreams want to come and work with us to further the American experiment—a government and a country that is led and built by the people, for the people, and of the people.

Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that America doesn’t want this kind of person or that kind of immigrant. Don’t listen to the worst voices who call you inferior or unwanted because you come from an impoverished background or from a disrespected group of people or from a place of war and chaos. You are wanted. You are needed. America is great only because Americans have welcomed those who came to help realize her vision of a free people, united in the quest to create liberty and opportunity for all.

America has not always lived up to her ideals. Sometimes, instead of being a shining city on a hill, we have been a purveyor of slavery and racism within our own borders and an exporter of American imperialism without. However, those tragic mistakes—the enslavement of black people and Asians, the annihilation of native American peoples, the imposition of foreign rule in other countries—are and have been just that, tragedies and a betrayal of the true meaning of the United States of America. We are better than our historic crimes and abuses, and we are and will be better than the current clamorous agents of dissension, discord, and disharmony.

I believe that those who are now using stupid and derogatory language to discourage and ridicule and disparage the homeless and the tempest-tost and yes, people of color, will eventually be out-shouted and out-numbered by the millions of Americans who join with Lady Liberty to say, “Send these! I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I pray that those true, good, and grateful American voices will be heard clearly and soon.

Reading Through India: a 2018 Focus

I thought I might try to focus on one country or part of the world each year, reading books and watching movies from that part of the world in order to develop a “feel” and store of knowledge about a particular country or region. 2018 is going to be the year of India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. So, the following are some books for me to choose from. I don’t plan to read all of these, but I do hope to read several.

Kim by Rudyard Kipling. I tried this classic novel of India from a British colonial perspective a couple of years ago, but I couldn’t get into it. IthinkI’ll try again.

The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. I think I read this children’s classic when I was a child, but I’d like to re-read.

Two Under the Indian Sun by Jon and Rumer Godden. Famed author Rumer Godden and her sister Jon collaborated on this memoir of their childhood in colonial India, 1915-1920.

The Peacock Spring by Rumer Godden. Two British (white) half-sisters, Una and Hal, come to India to live with their divorced U.N.-diplomat father. Both girls become romantically involved with Indian men.

Kingfishers Catch Fire by Rumer Godden. Fiction about a young widow, Sophie, who goes with her two daughters to live in rural India, written in the wake of Rumer Godden’s own experience of living with her children in an isolated house in Kashmir. The title of the novel comes from a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Freedom at Midnight by Larry Collins and Dominique LaPierre. “A famous, major work on Gandhi, Jinnah, Nehru, Admiral Lord Mountbatten, and the partition of India.” (Goodreads)

City of Joy by Dominique LaPierre. Fiction inspired by the true story of a doctor who moved to Calcutta in the 1960’s and experienced a spiritual awakening.

The Indian Bride by Karin Fossum. Norwegian mystery about a bride from India.

On the Far side of Liglig Mountain: Adventures of an American Family in Nepal by Thomas Hale. Medical missionary memoir.

The Raj Quartet by Paul Scott. The Jewel in the Crown, The Day of the Scorpion, The Towers of Silence, and The Division of Spoils. The origins of Paul Scott’s vast masterpiece.

My Seventh Monsoon: A Himalayan Journey of Faith and Mission by Naomi Reed. “From the view point of her seventh monsoon, Naomi Reed takes time to look back on the seasons of her life. As she does so, she shares with us her journey of faith and mission and reveals poignant truths about God and the way He works His purposes in our lives through seasons.” (Goodreads)

The Faith of Ashish by Kay Marshall Strom. Christian fiction from the Blessings in India series. Sequels are Hope of Shridula and Love of Divena.

Teatime for the Firefly by Shona Patel. India, 1943 and following.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel. I’ve heard of this book and seen it on numerous lists of recommended reading. I fear that it will be too “spiritual” and ecumenical for my tastes, but maybe not.

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. Not sure about this one either. “Born at the stroke of midnight, at the precise moment of India’s independence, Saleem Sinai is destined from birth to be special. For he is one of 1,001 children born in the midnight hour, children who all have special gifts, children with whom Saleem is telepathically linked.” It sounds very posh and literary, which may or may not be what I want to read.

A Passage to India by E.M. Forster. This novel is another one that I remember trying to read once upon a time, but I didn’t get very far with it. Maybe a second try is in order.

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. In the early 1950’s, Lata and her mother, Mrs. Rupa Mehra, are both trying to find — through love or through exacting maternal appraisal — a suitable boy for Lata to marry.

Churchill’s Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India During World War II by Madhusree Mukerjee. I love Churchill, but he definitely had his faults and his blind spots. India was one of them, I think.

Mandala by Pearl S. Buck. “News reaches Maharana Prince Jagat and his wife, Moti, that their only son, Jai, has been killed by the Chinese in a border skirmish. An inconsolable Moti sends Jagat out to bring the boy’s spirit home. On the journey, the prince becomes involved with a beautiful and mysterious young American woman.” (Goodreads)

Dancing Princess by Jean Bothwell. Set in 16th century India during the reign of the Mughal emperor Akbar. Or I may settle for some other novel by this author; many of her novels are set in India, and I’d like to try out her work.

Sold by Patricia McCormick. Verse novel about child sex slavery and prostitution.

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. My friend Bethany says she “would recommend it as being worth reading, but warn that the fine balance seems strongly tipped to the despairing side of life.” I may or may not be in the right mood for this 500+ page tome sometime this year.

City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi by William Dalrymple. “William Dalrymple explores the seven “dead” cities of Delhi as well as the eighth city-today’s Delhi.” (Goodreads)

Outcast by Dianne Noble. Someone recommended this novel of modern-day Calcutta to me. A Hundred Hands by the same author sounds good, too.

Again, these are all books that I have yet to read, so I’m certainly not recommending all of them. Do you have any books about or set in India, Nepal or Sri Lanka to recommend?

Saturday Review of Books: January 13, 2018

“What she was finding also was how one book led to another, doors kept opening wherever she turned and the days weren’t long enough for the reading she wanted to do.” ~Alan Bennett


Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

12 British Children’s Books I’d Like to Read in 2018

I’ve been an Anglophile ever since I was a child, when many of my favorite reads were written by British authors: C.S. Lewis, Philippa Pearce, E. Nesbit, JRR Tolkien, Kenneth Grahame, and A.A. Milne.

I also read some lovely award-winning and classic British children’s books last year: The Little Grey Men by BB, Minnow on the Say by Philippa Pearce, The Family From One End Street by Eve Garnett, and of course, four of the Swallows and Amazons books by Arthur Ransome.

This year I’d like to read:

Winter Holiday by Arthur Ransome (and any others of the Swallows and Amazons books that I can get my hands on).

Ameliaranne and the Green Umbrella by Constance Heward. Classic story from 1920. Ameliaranne, “whose family is very poor, goes to a party and tries to bring back all of her food-cakes, tangerines, sweets-hidden in her umbrella to feed her ailing brothers and sisters.” I may not be able to find an affordable copy of this one, and it may not be available from the library. I guess I could read it online, but I don’t particularly enjoy reading books that way.

Autumn Term by Antonia Forest. Classic boarding school fiction. “Twins Nicola and Lawrie arrive at their new school determined to do even better than their distinguished elder sisters, but things don’t turn out quite as planned.”

Borka: The Adventures of a Goose With No Feathers by John Burningham.

The Camels Are Coming (Biggles) by W.E. Johns. I’ve been meaning to read one of the books in this series about a WWI flying ace for a long time. 2018 is the year.

The Diddakoi by Rumer Godden. I have a copy of this book about a Romany (gypsy) girl.

The Little Duke by Charlotte Yonge. Recommended at Ambleside Online.

(something, to be decided) by Enid Blyton. Suggestions?

Our Island Story by H.E. Marshall. Also a part of the Ambleside Online curriculum.

The Peppermint Pig by Nina Bawden.

Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian.

The Railway Children by E. Nesbit. I had planned to read this particular Nesbit title in 2017 along with an online reading group that I follow, but I didn’t. So this year for sure.

Are there any other British children’s classics that you would recommend?

12 New Books to Check Out in 2018

God Save Texas: A Journey Into the Soul of the Lone Star State by Lawrence Wright. Lawrence is the author of Going Clear, an investigation into the origins and actions of Scientology and its adherents, which I read and found absolutely intriguing and appalling a couple of years ago.

Make a List: How a Simple Practice Can Change Our Lives and Open Our Hearts by Marilyn McEntyre. (February)

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. A family in crisis in 1974 Alaska struggles for survival. By the author of The Nightingale.

One Beautiful Dream: The Rollicking Tale of Family Chaos, Personal Passions, and Saying Yes to Them Both by Jennifer Fulwiler. (May)

The Penderwicks at Last by Jeanne Birdsall. (May) The final book in the Penderwick series.

The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden by Karina Yan Glaser. Sequel to the delightful The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street.

The Problim Children by Natalie Lloyd.

Very, Very, Very Dreadful: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918 by Albert Marrin. (January) I like Mr. Marrin’s writing and his exhaustive yet straightforward presentation of the subjects he writes about.

The Wishmakers by Tyler Whitesides. (February). Middle grade fantasy about a genie who emerges from a peanut butter jar.

The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century by Kirk Wallace Johnson. (April) Nonfiction.

White Chrysanthemum by Mary Lynn Bracht. (January) A novel about a Korean woman who sacrifices herself for her younger sister and becomes a “comfort woman” for the Japanese during World War II. It may get too graphic and violent for me, but I’m going to try it.

The Traitor’s Game (The Traitor’s Game #1) by Jennifer A. Nielsen.

Are there any books you’re looking forward to being published in 2018?

Best Young Adult Fiction I Read in 2017

You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins. Such a good young adult novel about family and cultural heritage and bonds across generations. I read this story of a multi-generational Bengali American family as they both adjusted to and influenced the places and people they became a part of, and Ms. Perkins’ new book quickly shot to the top of my YA list of favorites for 2017.

Deathwatch by Robb White. Something new, something old-ish. Robb White’s 1972 novel about a boy surviving in the desert while being hunted and hounded by a predatory criminal was both exciting and absorbing. Deathwatch won the 1973 Edgar Award for Best Juvenile Mystery from the Mystery Writers of America.

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge. Those who inhabit the underground city of Caverna are born with blank faces, and have to learn to put on preset patterns of expression. These learned Faces enable the citizens of Caverna to lie and dissemble and carry on dizzying political intrigues. One girl, Neverfell is different. Her guardian, Grandible the Cheesemaster, insists that she wear a mask whenever she meets with anyone else, though she does not know why. Maybe “Ugly” is the only Face she has been given? Or maybe it has something to with her past before she was taken in by Grandible as a seven-year-old, which she can’t remember. Long, but worth the time.

Downriver by Will Hobbs. Another survival story. This one is about eight teens, four girls and four guys, who ditch their instructor in an outdoor education camp, steal his van and equipment, and drive to the Grand Canyon to paddle the rapids of the Colorado all the way through the canyon.

Rose in Bloom by Louisa May Alcott. A re-read of one of my favorite Alcott stories. Rose in Bloom is the sequel to Eight Cousins.

Ashes by Laurie Halse Anderson. This third and final book in Ms. Anderson’s Seeds of America trilogy wraps up the story of Curzon and Isabel, the black teens who have weathered the vicissitudes of the American revolution and of slavery, freedom, and re-capture and are now near their goal: the liberation of Isabel’s younger sister, Ruth, and her restoration to freedom and the only family she has, Isabel.

Only six books on this list because I didn’t read that many young adult books in 2017. But these were all definitely top-notch reads, highly recommended.

10 Favorite Middle Grade Fantasy Fiction Books I Read in 2017

The Little Grey Men by BB (Denys Watkins-Pitchford). I think Tolkien must have read this book. Or Mr. Watkins-Pitchford read Tolkien? Or they both read the same sources? The Little Grey Men was published in 1942, and it won the Carnegie Medal for that year. The Hobbit was published in 1937, and it didn’t win a Carnegie Medal. Not that I think The Little Grey Men is plagiaristic, just somewhat similar in tone to Tolkien, a very British-y Middle Earth tone and setting. B.B. writes about gnomes, not hobbits. But his gnomes are just as British and nature-loving and humble and personable and hidden as Tolkien’s hobbits. This year I want to read the sequel, The Little Grey Men Go Down the Bright Stream.

Race to the Bottom of the Sea by Lindsay Eagar. Pirates and sharks and an eleven year inventor named Fidelia Quail. I thought this book was enthralling.

Last Day on Mars by Kevin Emerson. An old-fashioned space travel story with a futuristic and apocalyptic twist.

The Silver Gate by Kristin Bailey. Orphaned, Elric and his sister Wynnfrith, who is mentally handicapped, travel together through the fantasy feudal countryside as they look for a safe home where they can live free of prejudice and persecution and where they can take care of one another.

Henry and the Chalk Dragon by Jennifer Trafton. Henry draws a chalk dragon on the back of his door, but he’s not prepared for the chaos that ensues when the chalk dragon comes alive and goes to school with him. Excellent writing. Excellent adventure.

Dragon’s Green by Scarlett Thomas. Effie Truelove and her newfound friends—–Maximilian, Wolf, Lexy, and Raven—–must fight off the Diberi both in this world and in the Otherworld, and Effie must find her own way through the most important book that her beloved grandfather gave her, a book called Dragon’s Green.

The Countdown Conspiracy by Katie Slivensky. Miranda Regent is the genius thirteen year old from the United States who is one of the six astronauts in training for the international mission to Mars, a peace-keeping mission that will unite the world in a cause that transcends national interests and the recently concluded AEM war. But someone is out to sabotage the mission and the six kids who have been chosen for it. Can Miranda figure out who is behind the threatening emails and the attacks on her and her fellow astronauts before they succeed?

Broken Pride by Erin Hunter. The balance of Bravelands, a fictional version of the African landscape, has been disturbed, and only the combination of a lion cub, a young elephant, and a baboon can set it right. Maybe. If only they can figure out what has happened to make such horrible change come and what they can do to make things right. The First book in a new series by the authors of The Warriors series and The Survivors series of animal tales.

Rules for Thieves by Alexandra Ott. “After twelve-year-old orphan Alli Rosco is cursed with a deadly spell, she must join the legendary Thieves Guild in order to try and save herself in this high-stakes debut.” (Goodreads) I enjoyed this story, and the moral concerns of the protagonist made it a thoughtful and thought-provoking read.

A Chameleon,a Boy, and a Quest by J.A. Myhre. One day on the way to school in East Africa, Mu makes a friend, and everything in his life changes as his talking chameleon friend chooses Mu and calls him on a mysterious quest. I’m looking forward to reading the second books in this African setting fantasy series, A Bird, a Girl, and a Rescue (series title: The Rendwigo Tales).

The World’s Greatest Showman by J. Bryan III

The World’s Greatest Showman: The Life of P.T. Barnum by J. Bryan III.

I’m going with some of the urchins to see The Greatest Showman, the new movie musical starring Hugh Jackman as Phineas Taylor Barnum, the great huckster, advertiser, showman, lecturer, and promoter of nineteenth century America. So I had to pull out the Landmark history book about the life and times of Mr. Barnum so that I could check the movie against reality. I’m told that there’s not much reality in the movie.

If so, that’s probably a tribute to the real P.T. Barnum, who included about as much truth and reality in his shows and his advertisements and media campaigns as the average Hollywood movie mogul does in his, not very much. Everything in Barnum’s shows, first his New York museum, and then his circus, was colossal, unique, amazing, stupendous, prodigious, and/or fantastic—because Barnum said so. He was a liar and a humbug (one of his favorite descriptors), but the public knew it and ate it up. He made a fortune first for himself, but also for Charles Stratton, aka General Tom Thumb, for The Swedish Nightingale singer Jenny Lind, and for numerous other performers and partners who worked with and for him.

He also lost more than one personal fortune. Five different fires destroyed his various businesses and homes at different times, and he never did learn to adequately insure his holdings against disaster. Each time, according to the book, he was under-insured and had to start all over again building up his museum or circus or house to come back from the brink.

The World’s Greatest Showman portrays Barnum as a joker and a salesman, certainly not averse to exaggeration or downright lies as long as he could put on a good show and rope in a big audience. His views and actions in regard to racial issues and and slavery and justice were mixed, as befits the time in which he lived (1810-1891). But he was all-in-all a likable character, generous and a sharp businessman at the same time, a teetotaler and a “religious man”, according to Wikipedia, a dedicated member of the Universalist Church.


I’ve been to see the movie, and it was a great show, but not at all true to the life of P.T. Barnum. The movie took many liberties with the timeline and events of Barnum’s life, but that’s to be expected. Barnum would probably not have minded a bit or a even a lot of “humbug” in the interest of a good show. However, two elements of the movie plot would emphatically not have been to Mr. Barnum’s taste.

As I said, Barnum was quite dedicated to the temperance movement, didn’t drink alcohol at all, and encouraged others to abstain from alcoholic beverages, too. In the movie, he not only drinks, he’s rarely seen without a drink in his hand or sharing champagne or whiskey with friends, associates, and strangers. In fact, in the movie, alcohol almost becomes a symbol of the joie de vivre that Barnum tries to share with everyone he meets.

Also, Jenny Lind was Barnum’s friend and associate, and he did sponsor, finance, and arrange her American tour. But she would never have kissed him or tried to seduce him, on stage or off. Jenny Lind was, indeed, a devout Christian, and she gave most of her money, if not all of it, away to charities and churches. She and Barnum parted amicably before her contract with him had quite expired because she was tired of his commercialism and relentless promotions, even though she wanted to make as money as she could for her charitable endeavors.

Still, I recommend the movie and the Landmark book about his life. Each tells the story of a different man, one factual and the other fictional. I enjoyed both stories, and the music in the movie and Hugh Jackman’s performance as Barnum were worth the ticket price. (The movie reviewer at EW didn’t cut the movie any slack at all, and that wasn’t the only bad review I found in a cursory search. So you may want to ask yourself how much you can abide in the name of humbug from a fictionalized musical bio-pic.)

Quoting P.T. Barnum:

“Men, women, and children who cannot live on gravity alone need something to satisfy their gayer, lighter moods and hours, and he who ministers to this want is, in my opinion, in a business established by the Creator of our nature. If he worthily fulfills his mission and amuses without corrupting, he need never feel that he has lived in vain.”

“There’s no such thing as bad publicity. I don’t care what the newspapers say about me as long as they spell my name right.”

“Nothing draws a crowd quite like a crowd.”

“More persons, on the whole, are humbugged by believing in nothing, than by believing too much.”

“I am a showman by profession… and all the gilding shall make nothing else of me.”

“The bigger the humbug, the better people will like it.”