I won a couple books in a give away at Dear Author --ARC's of Heart's Blood by Juliet Marillier and Magic In The Shadows by Devon Monk. (according to the backs they're both due out Nov 3)
I'm still working on Magic In The Shadows. It's been my grab to watch for the bus that brings BabyBoy home book lately. It's the third in a series so while the overall story's major plot points are carried through some of the worldbuilding details are making me squint. Like why the heroine, Allie, ends up losing chunks of memory right and left from using her magic when no one else seems to. Maybe that is slipped in somewhere. I'm about 85-90 pages in.
It's written in first person which I don't like in general, the last thing I'll pick up to read is first person. And well, hero's name and me on two hours sleep a night for several days running didn't mix all that well. Hero's name is Zayvion Jones. Image that popped to mind when I saw the name Zayvion was SG1's Teal'c with birds and water bottles flying around...yeah. (yes, my brain is a strange and scary place especially on very little sleep) It's well written, intricate world building which is interesting and well done, the pacing's good, filling in the backstory from the other books is weaved in enough that you have enough to get the gist without it being info dump. I'm just having a hard time getting into this one. Reading it because it's there, and something new to read rather than it's grabbing and holding my attention. I think it would be better if I read the first two first but not quite grabbed enough to go hunting down the first two books in the series. It's a decent interesting enough book, it's just not catching me right now.
Heart's Blood by Juliet Marillier. I picked it up yesterday morning and read it straight through (well, as straight through as happens around here). I loved it. Again written first person, but this one sucked me in completely by page 2. Medieval fantasy set in Connacht. Has several of your basic Cinderella/Beauty & the Beast story elements. Orphaned Heroine with Evil Relatives, disfigured hero living in isolation in the castle on the hill, toss in a little Snow White w/ magic mirrors, a sweet romance woven in the mix but it works. It works so well. Caitrin's a scribe. Which is how she ends up gaining refuge at Whistling Tor--translating and copying a stack of family papers, which sucks her completely into a century old family curse, ghosts, generations of suspicious deaths, and a stand off with Normans attempting to claim the area.
Caitrin's fantastic. She's fighting not to jump at shadows a bit running from a distant cousin and her son. She's a bit sheltered, grown up at her father's elbow as his apprentice and spent more of her time in the workshop than out in the world but she's not stupid, not whining, not oh so tragic pity party even when she's rattled and fighting not to go hide in the corners. And she doesn't back down from Anluan, even when he sends her running away from him spooked at first. Panic reaction over with she goes right back and tries again.
Anluan is seen pretty realistically through Caitrin's eyes, and further brought to life with bits and pieces of the story of the Lords of Whistling Tor told to Caitrin by the motley mix of "household retainers"-- Magnus, Rioghan, Eirchi and Olcan. Couple spots where Anluan could stand a good kick in the pants but he's lived pretty much in isolation at the keep on the Tor, raised by Magnus, Rioghan, Eirchi, Olcan and Muirne (the final member of the household) his mother having died when he was 7 and his father by the time he was 9. Between the aspects of the family curse and just not dealing with the outside world Anluan's behavior is perfectly understandable. He has no idea what to make of Caitrin or how to deal with her, or much of anyone outside the bizarre little household that raised him.
There's nothing forced or rushed. The romance bit is really the least of it, and you want Caitrin & Anluan to get their happy ending by the end of it. Caitrin's journey from running away from her cousins to the end of the book is wonderful. The little details grounding it in time and place with the mysteries and other being of Whistling Tor are woven in so perfectly into the plot and scenery you don't notice them. The chaos of Anluan's library, loose scrolls and papers in several different hands, even with the bound books, sets of papers gathered together and held together by pieces of board tied together with leather to make a folder of sorts. Caitrin's notice of Rioghan's cloak, curious about the dye that produced the red of it, the Heart's Blood plant in Irial's garden which the flowers produce a prized, expensive purple ink. That other than Anluan, Caitrin's the only one that reads in the household and she far better than he--as his education was mostly self-taught after his father's death when he was 9. Right through to the bits of Brehon law.
The magic mirrors and the ghosts were woven in so seamlessly that I couldn't even get annoyed at the bespelled mirrors. The story that starts with Nechtan, Anluan's great-grandfather, and carries down through Conan, Irial and finally Anluan isn't forced or info-dumped. It uncurls in bits and pieces in no real particular order, explanations grudgingly given or refused when Caitrin tries to find out more. The fantasy aspects woven in so seamlessly, fit so perfectly with the superstitions and lore of the historical period that its simply alive.
The writing is gorgeous. Caitrin doesn't tangent into wtf-she-wouldn't-think-that-in-character mental monologues to info-dump historical facts. None of the aspects that from a distance make you squint and go uh huh yeah right (like the spelled/cursed mirrors) are jarring as you read because they *belong* at Whistling Tor with the curse over it and the nightmares unleashed a century before. The romance of Caitrin and Anluan is woven through and beautifully done, not overt, almost secondary to the plot of Whistling Tor's history. Medieval fantasy/mystery that happens to have a thread of romance through it. And very much worth giving a chance to read.