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Aiken, Joan

Very few people can write as well for adults as they do for children, or write light fiction as convincing as their more serious stories. Joan Aiken is one of the few, and a discreet poet into the bargain.

During a visit to my parents, so comfortably settled with a long view out over the sea that is a positive incitement to sitting down by the window with a book, I took this opportunity of catching up on Aikens. The difficulty was, where to start: there are the Felix trilogy, the James III series, the Armitage stories and a whole list of magic-or-mystery stories. Perhaps it's a good thing that parents don't have any of Joan Aiken's adult fiction.

So what can I say to give you a reasonable flavour of her various styles and encourage you to try them? because that is of course what I should like to do. Perhaps a short – well, I'll do my best – impression of a number of books: here goes.

Go Saddle the Sea
The second book in the Felix trilogy, a good robust adventure with two children making a difficult journey across Spain in the early 1800s. Remarkable for not making things pretty-pretty, and especially remarkable for the matter-of-fact way in which faith is taken for granted as an ingredient of everyday life.
The Cuckoo Tree
One of the James III books, set in an England that never happened. Convincing characters, and lots of unpretentious echoes (Brueghel, for example, or Austen) to bring the well-read reader extra pleasure. St. Paul's cathedral, swagged and festooned with oranges and lemons for the coronation, is an abiding image.
Embroidered Sunset
A romance, and I don't care who finds out that I read (good) romances! No happy ending, but memorable characters – always a hall-mark of an Aiken book – and incidents: "Emma Chiddock!" I cry, each time I spring the beaters of our electric whisk into the washing-up. Also some very persuasive descriptions of pictures, good enough to make me want to see them.
All and More
An assortment: about half and half Armitage stories, which combine magic and everyday as effectively as E. Nesbit, and more fantastic tales. Always logical, never whimisical.
Foul Matter
Heavier fiction, with truly adult griefs and pain. How people can misunderstand each other ... Loving descriptions of houses and places, too, plus short poems and some interesting ideas for recipes.

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