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.

10 Pain Symptoms You Should Never Ignore

According to M. Crouch, AARP,

1. Pain with loss of function The doctors say: If you hurt your leg but can still walk on it, it may be just a sprain. But if you can’t move it and you’re having pain, that should be investigated immediately. Loss of function can indicate a fracture, nerve injury, loss of blood flow or a serious infection. From personal experience: if you have a fracture you’ll be in excruciating pain. Something heavy fell on my toes last week, I’m still in pain and unable to wear shoes!

2. Eye pain that comes out of nowhere The doctors say: It could be caused by a blocked blood vessel, internal bleeding or acute glaucoma, a serious eye condition caused by increased pressure inside the eye. Eye pain can also be the first symptom of shingles, a viral infection that causes a painful rash. From personal experience: Take the shingle vaccine as I did two years ago and eliminate an unnecessary problem.

3. Chest pain The doctors say: An older adult experiencing any type of chest pain should be evaluated by a doctor right away. A heart attack doesn’t always manifest as sudden, crushing pain, it’s more like a dull pressure or a heaviness. Other signs of a heart attack are dizziness, fatigue or shortness of breath while doing ordinary activities like going up the stairs or gardening. Chest pain may also be a signal that a blood clot has moved to your lungs or heart — a life-threatening condition that needs immediate treatment. From personal experience: So many times I rushed to the hospital with chest pain and was told it was a stomach problem. The stomach pressing on the heart and causing muscle spasm. I would still go to the ER, if I have the above symptoms. No need to take unnecessary risks.

4. Pain in one or both arms, your jaw or between the shoulder blades The doctors say: These lesser-known symptoms of a heart attack are more likely to affect women, according to the American Heart Association. Nausea or vomiting, shortness of breath, dizziness and light-headedness are other heart attack symptoms to look for. Severe pain between the shoulder blades can also be caused by an aneurysm or a tear in your aorta, a major blood vessel.

5. The worst headache of your life The doctors say:  An occasional headache is usually nothing to worry about. More concerning is one that feels more severe than usual.

6. Severe abdominal pain  The doctors say: “Pain in your abdomen that keeps getting worse — or that is associated with vomiting, swelling or a fever — can be a marker of acute appendicitis, a serious infection, or diverticulitis. You know your body. If you’ve had this pain on and off for years, that’s one thing. But if it’s new and it doesn’t let up or it keeps getting worse, I want to see you.”

7. Calf or thigh pain, especially if in just one leg  Increasing pain in your calf or thigh after a prolonged period of inactivity, even if it’s not severe, can be a sign of deep vein thrombosis (DVT). This dangerous type of blood clot is especially common in patients recovering from knee or hip surgery. Patients sometimes describe the pain as feeling like a muscle cramp, and it’s often accompanied by leg swelling or redness. DVTs need to be treated right away because the clots can travel through your bloodstream and block the blood supply to your lungs, a life-threatening condition called pulmonary embolism.

8. Pain from a minor wound Say you’re working in the yard and something sticks you in the hand. Or maybe you cut yourself doing a home repair. If the pain from a wound (especially one that is red and swollen) keeps getting worse over a few days, that can be a sign of a serious infection that can turn deadly if not treated.

9. Pain after a procedure or injection Spinal injections, biopsies or other therapies that involve injections can occasionally cause infection or bleeding. If you experience persistent pain or loss of function after one of those, call your provider right away.

10. Pain with fever  If you have a high temperature as well as pain, your body may be fighting a dangerous infection. It’s especially important to seek treatment quickly.

On preorder FAMILY PLANS, Love Plan Series, book 7

Left inconsolable by his wife’s death in a plane crash, Tim Kent dedicates himself to his daughter, Brianna. He allows her to get closer to her best friend Debbie whose father died in the same plane crash. When Tim meets Erin Perkins, Debbie’s mother, he’s impressed by the beautiful, young woman struggling to raise six children on her own while working at an exhausting job. He does his best to help her. Attraction develops between them. While Brianna practically lives with her friend Debbie and shares Erin’s motherly attention, Tim acts as a surrogate father for the six fatherless children. But the sorrowful plane crash that brought them together threatens to separate them when shocking secrets are revealed.

Can a brighter future arise from those ashes at Christmas time?

Family Plans is part of the Love Plans Series.

On preorder KISSING PLANS, Love Plan Series, book 6

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.

Kissing Plans is part of the Love Plans Series.

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?

Old Age

I read this and laughed. You may enjoy it too even if you’re not that old.

“I have everything that I wanted as a teenager, only 50 years later. I don’t have to go to school or work. I get an allowance every month. I have my own pad. I don’t have a curfew. I have a driver’s license and my own car. The people I hang around with are not scared of getting pregnant and I don’t have acne. Life is great. I changed my car horn to gunshot sounds. People get out of the way much faster now.
  Gone are the days when girls used to cook like their mothers. Now they drink like their fathers.

I didn’t make it to the gym today. That makes five years in a row. I decided to stop calling the bathroom “John” and renamed it the “Jim”. I feel so much better saying I went to the Jim this morning.

When I was a child I thought “nap time” was a punishment. Now it feels like a small vacation.
The biggest lie I tell myself is… ” I don’t have to write that down, I’ll remember it”.
I don’t have gray hair… I have “wisdom highlights”! I’m just very wise.
If God wanted me to touch my toes, He would’ve put them on my knees.

Last year I joined a support group for procrastinators. We haven’t met yet.
Why do I have to press one for English when you’re just going to transfer me to someone I can’t understand anyway?

Of course, I talk to myself. Sometimes I need expert advice. Old age is coming at a really bad time.
At my age “Getting Lucky” means walking into a room and remembering what I came in there for.

I have more friends I should send this to, but right now I can’t remember their names.
Now, I’m wondering… did I send this to you, or did you send it to me?”

Join New Cranky Old Women if you love to laugh.” 

Relax with a sweet and sassy romance novel: SAILING AWAY PLANS

“A great love story and a second chance at a new life. It is a very good read and I definitely recommend it.”

A contemporary romance, realistic, sexy, and emotional.
Widower, empty-nester, and successful surgeon, Dr. Steve Winston is fed up with his routine work and announces he’s quitting his Cincinnati clinic, moving to live on a boat, and starting a new health center on a Caribbean island.
Dedicated to her patients, Nurse Lillian Haynes never stops doing odd jobs for Dr. Winston. His decision to resign breaks her heart. No amount of money will convince her to take care of his pets anymore, but when he invites her out to dinner, she agrees and polishes her appearance in hopes of being noticed by the man she’s secretly loved for ages.
Delighted to discover what a stunning woman she becomes once she’s shed her boring uniform, Steve shares his dreams with Lillian and tries to convince her to accompany him to his island—until her son and his children rush into town to protect their father from his own craziness.
Sailing Away Plans is book 1 of the Love Plans Series.