One of the great things about airplane travel – a thing that helps to assuage my guilt about the amount of fuel it takes to get me somewhere – is that I can get several unadulterated hours to read – no phone, no conversation (I make a point of opening the book the minute I get on the plane, so most chatty seat companions are quelled), and nothing to do but sit.

So on my trip to Austin, I read a lot and really enjoyed two books I finished – Labyrinth by Kate Mosse and Crossed Wires by Rosy Thornton. Both books involve strong women who seek out new things in their lives – adventure, relationships, understanding. I found both books to be quite enjoyable and fun reading.

First, Mosse’s book might be, superficially, lumped in with Dan Brown’s blockbusters because of its use of a historical legend to compel the story forward. The basic premise is that two women – one in the 20th century and one in the 12th century – are pursuing the same mystery and trying to pursue the same secret – a collection of facts, stories, and books about the Holy Grail. The book alternates between stories of Alais, the 12th century woman who lives in Carcasonne, France, and Alice, the 20th century English woman who has come to Carcasonne as part of an archaelogical dig. In the end, of course, their stories are intertwined on essential levels.

Mosse’s writing is robust and interesting in both character development and plot pacing. She also uses the history and language of the Languedoc region of France to make subtle but valuable probes into the way that conquerers change the scope and culture of a place. Finally, she incorporates Grail legend in fresh ways and uses women to compel that story forward, creating a sort of feminist addition to the Grail literature without delving, as I fear Dan Brown does, into the gimics of thrillers to create excitement. All in all, a good read.

Rosy Thornton’s book was a pleasant surprise. When the author contacted me about reviewing her book, I gladly agreed because it sounded fun and, well, it’s about a Cambridge professor – and most English professors will admit that we have all secretly wanted to teach at Oxford or Cambridge – those pinnacles of our profession. When the book arrived, I thought it would be fun and light reading – and it was, but it was also insightful and complex in the way that it unfolds.

The novel tells of two people – Peter and Mina – who meet when Peter calls in a claim to the insurance company where Mina works. Instantly, there’s a rapport – what some people might call chemistry – and they proceed to work through the beginnings of a relationships via weekly phone calls. The romance element of this book was interesting to me because it wasn’t fierce, and it wasn’t fast – it was simple and honest and hard and right, as relationships usually are when they work. So that element is nice in this book, but perhaps what I enjoyed most were the relationships that Peter has with his twin daughters and that Mina has with her daughter. I am not a parent, so I do not understand the full depth of that love, but Thornton does a beautiful job of creating an imperfect but gorgeous parental picture in these families. More than any book I’ve read in a while, I could see the challenges that parents face, even with kids who are “untroubled” or “overachievers.” In some ways, this book speaks of the way relationships work out in the mundanity of life and the way that these relationships give even the simplest moments beauty. Definitely pick up this novel and read it – it’s worth it, even if you’re not an English professor.

Cover of Labyrinth by Kate MosseLabyrinth by Kate Mosse

Cover of Crossed Wires by Rosy ThorntonCrossed Wires by Rosy Thornton