First up is Robert Jordan's New Spring - The Novel (first published in January of 2004). Because of the complexity of the Wheel of Time series, I have included links to various Wikipedia articles on the different characters described in the book, rather than going into detail here.
'New Spring - the Novel' is very much a stand alone book, but it also sets the stage for the action that commences in book one of the 'Wheel of Time' series, The Eye of the World. In 'New Spring' we meet Moraine Damodred and Siuan Sanche as young women who are not yet fully Aes Sedai, but are in the last stages of their training, in the White Tower of Tar Valon. The two young women witness a foretelling, and though they are still not fully trained, they are sworn to secrecy and they are set on the trail to discover the whereabouts of a baby boy who is the reincarnation of last of the great male Aes Sedai, Lews Therin Telamon, known as The Dragon. He had been the most powerful, most hated, most feared man in their history; a man who'd gone mad and broken the world and also killed his entire family. Since his time, no males with the one power have been allowed to live as they all eventually went mad and had to be either severed from the ability or killed for the safety of everyone.
Jordan gives us enough background in this tale that we have an idea of the grim nature of things. The world is harsh, and the people are harsher. The city of the Aes Sedai, Tar Valon, is besieged by an invading army and looks as if it will be defeated, taking the Tower with it. After completing their task for the tower to the best of their abilities, Moraine and Siuan are given the final test which will earn them their shawls as full Aes Sedai. Upon their being raised to the shawl, the two women continue their quest to find the child.
Each character in the story emerges fully fleshed, and the reader feels as if they know them. As a reader I was full engaged in the whole story, and found myself unable to put the book down for long. The characters and the events that happen to them are as real as if they had happened to the reader. Destiny looms large - the events that the book is the prequel to weigh heavily, but do not overpower the story, allowing this book to stand on its own.
This book is much shorter than most Robert Jordan books, and focuses more completely on the main protagonists instead of going off on side stories as the rest of the series, especially the later books are wont to do. If you have never read a book in the Wheel of Time series, I highly recommend this one to begin with.
'Heather's Heart' by Douglas A. Sanburn is a modern fantasy, set in the modern day. At first glance, the cover looks like a paranormal romance, but nothing could be further from the truth. The tale begins with one of the protagonists, the powerful sorcerer Lord Emrick Evenwood hanging by the neck in Hades as an eternal warning to anyone who would oppose the evil demon/sorcerer Baron Adrien von Klaus, the current ruler of Hades. He has been hanging there for twenty-five years. Evenwood escapes with the help his friend who is also a demon. When he returns to his home which has been abandoned while he was in Hades, he finds it occupied by a woman, Lillian, and her twin teen-aged children: uber-normal Artie, and Heather, who is infatuated with all that is Goth. He comes to an arrangement with Lillian who, unbeknownst to her children, has been illegally squatting in his house rent free while trying to save up to buy a home of her own for her children. He arranges to move into the attic apartment, while he searches for the artifact that that he originally stole from the Baron von Klaus, and who so desperately wants it back.
As the time passes, Emrick gets to know the family, and he realizes that there are some terrible difficulties in their lives, and that they don't even know the truth behind their problems. Despite the fact that he is in hiding from the Baron who is looking for the stolen artifact, Emrick finds himself trying to help the children and by helping them, he helps their mother. Along the way he discovers that at least one of the children, Heather, has the ability to work magic and he finds an appropriate teacher for her.
Heather's Heart touches on real life issues facing parents and teens: bullying, abuse, siblings, and homelessness, and the aftermath of rape. All these tough subjects are handled in such a way that the book is appropriate for readers ranging from teen to adult, but they are dealt with in a realistic and compassionate way. The epic battle of good versus evil, the way Sanburn portrays the use of magic and the fact that everyone has secrets that affect their actions in that battle makes this a very good novel. I read this book in two nights, because I could not put it down. Heather's Heart is currently available as an e-book through Amazon for the Kindle, and through GoodReads.