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.

Travel with Mona to New Zealand

While some parts of the world are at war, and many countries face political upheaval, let me take you to a region where we can find peace and serenity.

We cruised around New Zealand in January, supposedly the warmest summer month of the Southern hemisphere, but it was way cooler than I expected—62o F—and I used my free day in Auckland, the capital of New Zealand, looking for a warm jacket to buy. Here are two pictures taken from the penthouse restaurant of the hotel.

The harbor and high-rises of downtown Auckland.
The Sky Tower is a telecommunication and observation tower in Auckland.

We started our New Zealand cruise on January 16 from Auckland. Here are two pictures of Auckland taken from the ship as we departed the harbor under cloudy skies.

From the ship logbook that I saved, here is a description of our departure in marine terms: “We swung the bow to port and started to make headway at 19:02, setting various courses through Waitemata Harbor, then through the Rangitoto Channel towards the pilot station. At 19:43 the local pilot disembarked. The captain rang “Full Away on Passage” and the ship entered the Hauraki Gulf en-route to our fist port of call, Tauranga. We sailed all night and arrived in the morning to Tauranga, our first stop, where we met with strong winds.”

A view from the Tamaki Maori Village
We visited the temple and discovered the history and culture of the Maori people. They sent a warrior to meet us and make sure we have come in peace.
They welcomed us with a traditional greeting, the touching of noses and foreheads. Then they gave us a colorful performance, singing and dancing on the sound of ancient Maori instruments.

After two days at sea, we arrived at Port Chalmers, located on the South Island on the Otago Peninsula. It was settled by Scottish pioneers, and the temperature was only 57o F.

We visited the train station and the Cadbury factory, where we tasted our favorite chocolate.

Our guided tour led us to the Larnack Castle. Set on 35 acres, this neo-Gothic castle was built in 1870 by a prominent banker. It is now owned by the Barker family who restored it to its initial splendor. The ballroom can be rented for weddings, balls, conference dinners, and other functions.

Larnach Castle
The magnificent gardens with a view over Otago Peninsula
The back of the castle
The local Scottish band.

The ship headed south to Fjordland National Park, dominated by the Southern Alps, and started a scenic cruise through many fjords. Most of the passengers were on deck admiring the scenery.

We continued the cruise through the Tasman Sea, the large body of water between New Zealand and Australia. The British explorer Captain Cook extensively navigated the Tasman Sea. We visited his house in Melbourne, Australia.

Calm, serene and awe-inspiring, New Zealand seems to be the perfect place to relax. But the trip is so long!!!

KISSING PLANS, book 6 of the Love Plans Series is on Preorder.

Available at Amazon

Susan Chen returns to Cincinnati to work as university professor. Her best friend, Royce Winston who’s been secretly in love with her for years, is determined to change their relationship for the best. Little did he expect Susan to arrive with her mother and a Thai fiancé imposed on her by her family. When Susan asks him to accommodate the unwelcome fiancé until he finds a job, and then help her get rid of him, Royce eagerly obliges.

The best way to succeed is to push the fiancé into another woman’s arms—even if she’s Royce’s former girlfriend and the fiancé has become his houseguest and good buddy. The complicated situation threatens to explode at any minute…and finally does, ripping apart their best laid plans.

IRRESISTIBLE – I’ve Got A Secret

Everyone has secrets…
But when you find that special someone, it’s those secrets that can make or break a relationship.
Six stories.
Six secrets—some bad, some good—featured in these BRAND NEW STEAMY STORIES From New York Times & USA Today Bestselling, Award-Winning Authors.
Can they hang on to their happy-ever-after once those secrets are revealed?

TWO HEARTS’ SUBVERSION by Tamara Ferguson, USA Today bestselling author: Marc Theroux and Desiree Broussard shared tragedy when they were kids. As friendship grows into something more, they’re forced to keep secrets when both are recruited by separate agencies responsible for investigating domestic terrorism. Will their love survive separation as Broussard Industries is targeted by one of the largest terrorist organizations in the middle east?

NO MORE HIDING by Natalie Ann, USA Today bestselling author:Brent and Vivian both have secrets that they are keeping from the other. When trust becomes a factor, can they find their way past their lies to love again?

MESSY PLANS by Mona Risk,New York Times and USA Today bestselling author:Dr. Matt Lopez is perfectly happy with his medical career until the new nurse practitioner, with her lovely smile and crazy ideas, turns his life upside down.

EVAN by Stacy Eaton, USA Today bestselling author: Can Laney and Evan find a way to build a relationship while keeping others from getting involved, or will the revealed secrets be enough to end any chance of a future before it begins?

DEAR DIARY HOTTIE by Mimi Barbour, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author: During their last months of high school, Eva and Jason hook up in a way that neither of them forgets. When they finally meet by chance, can he forget his animosity toward the girl who never acknowledged him after their passionate encounter, and can she put aside her unending grief that he never called.

ROYAL FLUSH by Susanne Matthews, International bestselling author: Pearl refuses to be part of another of her father’s mergers and runs away to be herself. When she meets Kyle, she falls for him, but what will happen when he learns who she really is?

Enchanted by Vikings #RachelleAyala @Mimisgang1 #mgtab

 

Everywhere I turn there’s a new movie, television series, video game, heavy metal bands, even costume-partygoers celebrating this ancient culture that hailed from the icy regions of Northern Europe.

Why are modern men and women of the twenty-first century so enchanted by Vikings? Perhaps it is a yearning to return to what we believe to be a simpler life, one that was in touch with nature and the elements of raw survival. Or it’s the fascination of muscled and bearded men who were too wild to be tamed. Or the glory of a warlike society, where valor, honor, and bravery were highly regarded. Possibly, it’s their reputation for brutality and slaughter and the fear they engendered on their raids. Although to be fair, the Romans, Assyrians, Mongols, Iroquois, British and all other human groups were no less brutal. Or it could be the love affair we have with their gods and goddesses and the stories they told that have been passed down to us. Their antics, their cavorting, their origin stories, and their views concerning fate and the afterlife and the finality of Ragnarok.

The Norsemen did not call themselves Vikings, and a lot of the stories have become romanticized as time went by. They get made and remade into operas, movies, novels, symphonies, plays, and video games, and the characters are invented and changed. Even a Norseman’s appearance has been creatively embellished. For example, they didn’t wear horned helmets as they were commonly depicted, and we don’t truly know how they wore their hair and beards, or whether they were as heavily tattooed as movies and popular culture now depict them. From Wagner to Marvel, everyone has their own appropriation of Norse culture, mythology, legends, and stories.

For me, I like the Norse mythology–from the world tree to the serpent surrounding the world, and stories of the various gods, goddesses, giants, dwarves, and other creatures in their pantheon. The stories and myths vary with the teller, and indeed the gods take on shapes of birds, totem animals, or even other gods as they scheme and plot for either power or entertainment. The Norse were also fatalistic, believing in norns who have woven the strands of their lives before they were born. The fatalism extended to Ragnarok, the end of the world or at least the end of most of their prominent gods. No one could stop what was foretold. It happened exactly as predicted. It was a horrible ending, and yet, some minor characters survived, but nothing is recorded or survived to our day. What happened after Ragnarok will always remain a mystery or even better, we’re free to invent our own endings or new beginnings.

I did just that with Red Hexed: Ruby where a modern-day woman in San Francisco comes face to face with a Viking in search of a berserker sword. She’s drawn into his quest to stop Ragnarok when he asks her to impersonate Hella, the goddess of death. Along the way, they get tangled up with Odin, Loki, Freya, Hella, and Surt while a shapeshifting horsefly turned cockatoo leads or misleads them while inadvertently playing matchmaker. [Check it out for 99c release week special].

Have a Little Steam With Your Hockey

Hot hockey playerSteamy hockey romance, that is. Because of course. Who ever heard of a sweet hockey romance?

That was a serious question asked of me the other day by a writer who wondered if there were any readers out there who might want to read her books. She’s writing sweet hockey romance. Frankly, my answer to her was that I have no idea.

But I DO know that readers love a little steam with their romance when it involves a hunky hockey player.

Because that’s the payoff with a hunky athlete for a hero, right?

But I felt bad about not having a better answer for this author, so I did a quick survey of the top 100 sports romances on Amazon to see if I could find a sweet hockey romance book on the list anywhere.

The answer: a big fat ZERO

Which makes sense to me. We all have our reasons for choosing what we love to read, but there are those universal fantasies that hold true for many of us and one of them is to be ravaged by a big strong man–in no uncertain terms. These romances come in many tropes and subgenres from dark mafia to motor cycle club stories. And somewhere in there fit the sports heroes.

And within the sports romances, hockey romance reigns supreme. And by that I mean, the readers are dedicated and the books sell like hotcakes–or hot hunks.

If you have that fantasy about a rich rugged hunk who could have anyone choosing you, then steamy hockey romance will check that box. Every time.

You’ll know from the opening lines from He Has Charm that it’s a steamy one:

“Being blind isn’t a problem, sugar. I can smell and feel my way around you.” She giggles as I sit up in bed and rip the blindfold off.

That’s when I realize being blind actually was a problem. A big problem. Because I’m faced with three lovely naked ladies—and one of them has a camera…

Check out the Boston Brawlers hockey romance series today.

He Has Charm Cover

He Has a Baby cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Check out the book trailer for He Has Game- a steamy fake fiancee hockey romance!

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