Travel with Mona to France-The Loire Valley

A Writer’s Inspiration: France

Of all the countries I visited, France has always been my favorite. Maybe because of its rich culture and history, or maybe because I am fluent in French and have several friends living in Paris who always welcome me.

With its cobbled streets, stunning Basilica, artists, bistros … Montmartre is full of charm! Perched on the top of a small hill in the 18th arrondissement, the most famous Parisian district has lost none of its village atmosphere that appealed so much to the artists of the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Sacré-Cœur basilica is a masterpiece of grace and grandeur. You can see this entirely white landmark from all parts of Paris. Built at the end of the 19th century in the Romano-Byzantine style, it is dedicated to the heart of Christ and is an important place of worship in the capital. It houses the largest mosaic in France, measuring no less than 480 m²!

A narrow street with cafes in Montmartre.
A unique view of the Tour Eiffel from the
balcony of my hotel room
Perched on the Butte (hill) Montmartre, the basilica is accessible by funicular from the Place Saint-Pierre or via the lawns and steps from the little public garden ‘Square Louise Michel’. 

If you go to Paris, you’ll probably climb the Tour Eiffel or use the elevator after staying in line for an hour. You’ll visit the Arc de Triomphe, Les Invalides, Les Tuileries, many more monuments and must-see places and of course Versailles.

Although Paris would inspire any visitor with fabulous dreams, there is more to France than its capital. A few years ago, my husband rented a car and we toured the Loire Valley.

The valley is known for its dry white wines,
and sparkling-wine 
Blois, a hillside city on the Loire River, is the capital of the Loir-et-Cher region in central France.

The châteaux of the Loire Valley (French: châteaux de la Loire) are part of the architectural heritage of the historic towns of Amboise, Angers, Blois, Chinon, Orléans, Saumur, and Tours along the river Loire in France. They illustrate Renaissance ideals of design in France.

The châteaux of the Loire Valley number over three hundred, ranging from practical fortified castles from the 10th century to splendid residences built half a millennium later. When the French kings began constructing their huge châteaux in the Loire Valley, the nobility, drawn to the seat of power, followed suit.

The Chateau de Chambord, the most sumptuous one, was built by King François I and inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci. The chateau remains one of the most famous and visited buildings in France. Chateau de Chambord was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

The château d’Amboise was built over an old roman fortress. Throughout France’s troublesome 16th Century, the château d’ Amboise was the home of King Henry II and his wife, Catherine de’ Medici. Leonardo Da Vinci spent the last three years of his life here, as a guest of King Francis I. Although he lived in the neighboring château of Clos Lucé, Leonardo da Vinci is buried in the Royal Château of Amboise.

The château de Chenonceaux, called the Ladies’ Castle, is famous for its architecture which bridges the Cher River. Founded on the pilings of a mill in 1513, the château was completed in 1522. The château was confiscated by Francis I in 1535. Henry II presented it to his mistress Diane de Poitiers. On his death his queen, Catherine de Médicis, forced Diane to give it up. Chenonceaux was extensively restored in the 19th century. The village was occupied by the Germans and slightly damaged in World War II.

The château de Chaumont, built in the 10th century, is one of the oldest castles in the Loire Valley.

Villandry is better known for the magnificent gardens surrounding the castle.

The château de Blois has been the residency of several French kings. It is also the place where Joan of Arc went in 1429 to be blessed by the Archbishop of Reims before departing with her army to drive the English out of Orleans.

The château de Cheverny was built between 1630 and 1640, because a young wife was caught cheating on her husband.

While visiting so many famous castles, I visualized gallant aristocrats entertaining beautiful women in lavishly decorated galleries and plush gardens. Stories played in my mind. I don’t write historical romances but kept thinking about the settings.

A year later, my niece related her summer training in France. As a Harvard University student in Architecture, she was offered the unique opportunity to work on the restoration of a chapel in a French castle. When I asked jokingly, “Was the owner a haughty old man?” My niece answered: “He was a young, handsome count and the five girls in my team had a crush on him. He dated my friend.”

Oh, oh. Château . Handsome count. Training on a historical chapel. Maybe looking for a historical statue. I had an epiphany. Here was my story premise. Below is the château I used in my story. When I pitched it to an agent at the RWA conference, she suggested I change the plot to make it a romantic suspense. I took her suggestion to heart and upped the stakes with a missing statue and the murder of a professor. THE MISSING STATUE was born.

THE MISSING STATUE: Are his statue and chateau worth endangering the life of the impetuous young woman who’s turned his life upside down? https://www.amazon.com/dp/B010FX4OOY/  

“… is a great romance with an excellent mystery.” ~Publishers’ Weekly

This is a wonderfully exciting romantic suspense novel. The characters are appealing and the setting is very romantic, a chateau in the Loire Valley. There is an interesting cast of characters. The plot is full of action and the reader is never sure who is on the side of good or evil.” ~ Romance Studio
“Murder, mystery, and intrigue seem to follow Cheryl as she assists Francois on his project. A great contemporary romantic read.” ~Review Your Book
Mona Risk brings old-fashioned romance back into style… full of mystery and intrigue.  I loved Ms. Risk’s injection of humor into the story. A sweet mystery romance you’re guaranteed to enjoy.” ~ Two Lips Review


If you have a chance to go to France, do yourself a favor and visit the châteaux de la Loire. I promise you won’t regret it.

I have three new books on pre-order.

KISSING PLANS: From best friend to lovers. But she’s engaged. What better way to get rid of the undesired fiancé? Finding him a girlfriend.

FAMILY PLANS: The plane crash devastated two families and revealed painful secrets. Can a brighter future arise from those ashes at Christmas time?

HEALING PLANS: He adopted two minority children but lost his wife. Finally things settle for him, until the lovely surgeon he hires turns his life upside down.

A Walk Through Our Houses by Nancy Radke

Before the heat of summer sets in, let’s take a walk through our houses and get rid of everything that comes from petroleum. If your children are out of school, have them join in with you. They can count an item even if just a small part has any.

To begin with, that is the source of all our plastics. So the TV remote goes as well as those cell phones, the hair comb and brush and dryer, toothbrushes, water bottles, fans, furniture and fake leather, flooring, wastebaskets, piano keys, artificial joints, almost all the kids’ toys including the stuffing in the toy bears, storage boxes, bags, computers, fountain pens, insulation covers on wires, those cute refrigerator magnets, the clock on the wall, wall switches, counter tops… and that’s just a start. Our cars are made of plastic now, even the bumpers.

We had some of these items when I was a child, but not many—only those that could be made from wood or metal. They took a long time to make and were very expensive. My tea set from occupied Japan was packaged in a cardboard (wood product) box. I have a lot of wood and metal items because I got them before plastics developed very far.

Plastics Outside our Houses

Next let’s go to things that run on petroleum products. Cars and trucks and airplanes. Lawn mowers and chainsaws. Also all your farming equipment, including tractors that can’t plow while dragging an extension cord. Trucks hauling everything everywhere in our country. Without the trucks, your shelves are empty. Amazon comes to a standstill.

Fertilizers and weed killers (made from petroleum) are all having their prices skyrocket right now, which the farmers have to pay for now. You get to pay in the fall when the farm produce gets to the market.

And of course, heating and cooling. California already has electrical blackouts, which will hit on the hot days and I assume more often if we get rid of our dams which are a major green source of electricity. They can last 100 years. The turbines run slow enough the fish swim through them. The other sources? Coal. Nuclear.

Windmills are expensive (last 10 years or less), unreliable, make a loud noise, and kill our birds. People are realizing that you cannot live without petroleum, so currently we are importing it from Venezuela after closing down our sources, which we have in abundance.

Plastics make our life more comfortable, as long as we are aware of the chemical dangers in some, not all, plastics. New plastics try to avoid these dangers.

In the comment area, give us your list. I bet I missed a lot. Please note, my blogs are always my own opinion and not that of all of the Authors’ Billboard members.

I just released a cozy mystery, Any Lucky Dog Can Follow a Trail of Blood. Read about it on our monthly sales page. I am working on the next cozy, Any Lucky Dog Can Find a Missing Child. The dog, named Lucky, helps solve murders.

Any Lucky Dog

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Chill Out in the Garden!

April 11, 2022, Willamette Valley, Oregon (my yard)

In the northern hemisphere, it’s springtime! Or, depending on where you are, summer! Here in Oregon, USA, we’ve had a very long winter. We had snow on April 11 and only last week, there was frost on the windshield in the morning. It looks like I won’t be getting any cherries, plums, or peaches this year. The apples and pears bloomed late, so we may be okay there.

Gardening is great exercise!

What does the warm weather mean to you? To me, it’s gardening season. That also means I need to get in shape. Here’s a chart that should make you happy about spending time weeding and trimming. Need a butt lift? Move loads of soil or compost around!
Before you commit to your garden project, be sure to have your gear. Plenty of water to drink, a hat, sunscreen, gloves, and of course, a camera to take before and after pictures. Stretch all those muscles first, too. I have a five-gallon bucket with a swivel seat on it that holds my tools. Very nice to have portable accommodations. I never have been a fan of the kneeling pads but my chair/toolbox combo with a handle is great.


MOST IMPORTANT: Audio gear! For me, it’s my Echo frames. Not only do they hold the lenses that help me see, these also have little speakers above the ears and a mic somewhere in front. Since they’re linked with my smartphone, phone calls come through, too. Gloved hands are dexterous enough to tap the right temple, and it’s answered. Need tunes? I tell Alexa, “Shuffle music by Led Zeppelin” or Leonard Bernstein, depending on my mood. I wear scrubs so the phone’s nearby in a big pocket.

Tunes are good, but my go-to request while working and always while driving is, “Alexa, read my book.” Whatever book I’ve been reading on my Kindle device, continues. It DOES NOT have to be an AUDIBLE book, either. Alexa’s voice is pretty cool and way better than the first generation of book readers.

Any story that is ‘Text-to-Speech: Enabled’ on Amazon will work on your Echo. You can do so much more work when you’re listening, waiting for an exciting scene to finish. Even when I’m spent and finally go inside, the story follows me. No Echo frames? Any Kindle or Echo device will keep up with your place in the story. Just ask, “Alexa, read my book.” Smart stuff is awesome!

MURDER IS TO DIE FOR: Diehard Dames Amateur Detective Series

Looking for a long read to listen to for the road or a special project, check out MURDER IS TO DIE FOR. This cozy mystery set won’t make you blush (it’s not spicy) but will keep you intrigued.

Travel with Mona to Beijing, China

We left home on Friday, at 4:00 am to reach a 6:00 am flight, the first flight of a very long trip, two hours to Philadelphia with a forty-minute transit and a flight to Chicago, two hours transit and then the thirteen hours, yes THIRTEEN hours, long flight to Beijing. I was blissfully tired and lucky enough to sleep during most of the trip. We arrived in Beijing on Saturday, at 5:00 pm. There is a twelve hours difference in time between Florida and Beijing.

Of course, we lost our luggage. While we ran down the Philadelphia airport to catch our connection to Chicago, our suitcases procrastinated and missed the connection. We met a couple from Seattle who were in the same predicament. Very nice people, so friendly, they couldn’t wait to start their vacation and enjoy it. Unfortunately, their dream cruise ended in a horrible way as the man had a heart attack at the end of the cruise on his way home.

For our first day in Beijing, my husband had booked a private tour with an adorable guide very . Our guide was a lovely young woman, fluent in English, answered my unending questions. She explained, the government was still communist but more open to the West. Years ago, she was living in a small apartment with her father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, uncle and aunt and a cousin in a two-bedroom apartment. Notice one child per family. They all shared one kitchen and one bathroom with the rest of the building and they all had to dress the same way. Now she is engaged. Competition is encouraged. She and her fiancé worked hard and saved money to buy a one-bedroom apartment.

The 2008 Olympic Nest
One of many high rises in Beijing.
Notice the TV screen.

She showed us the Olympic Nest, downtown Beijing and the Summer Palace. We had a delicious lunch in the adjacent restaurant.

The Summer Palace
The Summer Palace
An imperial boat on the lake
In the Summer Palace gardens

I was agreeably surprised to discover that Beijing is a clean, modern metropolitan capital with more high-rises than Manhattan. I am not kidding. Not at all the idea I previously had of China.

For our second day in Beijing we joined the official cruise tour. We visited the Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. The square is a huge place overcrowded with a million tourists every day. To cross the large avenue and reach Tiananmen Square, we had to go through a tunnel. It was here that one of the tourists in our group panicked and said she couldn’t find her mother. The poor old woman was separated from our group. We spent half an hour looking for her, while taking pictures and then the group had to continue. Two hours later, both women finally joined us.

We spent three hours touring the courtyards, pavilions, and palaces of the forbidden city. Each of the emperor and empress had their own palaces. There were pavilions for the guests, for the officials, for the empress’s family…The yellow color was reserved to the imperial family. No one else could use it in China. The various servants serving in the Forbidden City were carefully chosen. It was an honor to serve the imperial family. But once chosen, the servants could never leave the Forbidden City and the parents could not visit.

On our third day in Beijing, we went to the Great Wall of China built in the 3rd century BC. I was surprised to find out that the Wall is formed by stone stairs framed by two walls interrupted by towers. I walked up to the first tower. It was almost like climbing three stories. The steps were at least one-foot high and irregular. My husband felt challenged and kept going to the second tower as high as eight stories. Apparently, the view is breathtaking from there.

As you can see it was cold on the Great Wall. This picture is taken from the first tower. The third tower visible from far.

People rarely walk beyond the third tower, although the Great Wall completely surrounds China and is the only man-made artifact visible from the surface of the Moon.

The statues of soldiers from the Ming Tombs.
And here, a picture at the Cloisonné factory where they manufacture gorgeous vases and plates.

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Widowed for seven years, Barbara Ramsay lives and breathes for her five grownup daughters and their babies. She’s also used to chatting over the phone with her good friend, Lou, and soothing his stress. But why has he invited her to come to Paris with his TV Network crew? Powerful News Director, Lou Roland is certainly not marriage material, yet he has suddenly decided he wants Barbara in his arms. Not an easy task when his pretty confidante from Kentucky proves so difficult to date–unless he follows her rules. Can the over-fifty confirmed bachelor and the widow loyal to her husband’s memory find true love and share a future?

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With high moral values and a strong sense of unity, the Ramsay family counts five daughters—Madelyn, Roxanne, Heather, Claire, Tiffany, and their mother Barbara. Later, stepdaughter Monica Roland joins the clan.

Holiday Babies Series:

Holly Jolly Christmas: Prequel to the series.

Christmas Babies: A sweet and powerful Christmas Story.

Valentine Babies: Can he love a woman expecting another man’s baby?

Mother’s Day Babies: Never too late to find love and happiness.

Wedding Surprise: Is it the worst or best wedding surprise?

Christmas Papa: Who’s my Papa, Mommy?

On Christmas Eve: We want a mommy for Christmas.