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.

Grand Canyon Adventure #RachelleAyala @Mimisgang1 #mgtab

My Visit to the Grand Canyon

I have no words to describe the majesty and awesomeness of being at the Grand Canyon. The beautiful views and the colors and textures are overwhelming. All I know is I had a memorable time with my two sisters and brother-in-law last week.

We were fortunate with the weather. It was cool in the morning and never got above seventy degrees in the afternoon. Upon arriving at the South Rim, we couldn’t get enough of the view. It was everywhere, since the path of the Rim Trail is about two and a half miles along the edge. We walked along the paved Rim Trail and then took a short hike down the Bright Angel trail, a series of switchbacks that descend from the popular Bright Angel Lodge. Even though it’s a “beginner” trail, well maintained with water stations, it was quite steep and we had to keep warning ourselves that traipsing downhill is easy, but what goes down must come up.

After a few turns of the switchbacks, I noticed the people coming up looked like they were red, sweaty zombies in a death march. Since the Grand Canyon is at high altitude, 6800 ft, we decided to turn back and were able to enjoy the hike back without passing out.

Watching the sunsets and sunrises make for more spectacular views and photos. We drove all the way to the East, Desert View, where there’s a tower [which is closed], and then made our way back, stopping at the view points. Being there, you get the full sense of the panoramic view, as well as the dry wind that blows sand and dust in your face. There’s the chapped lips, the dry mouth, and the sting of sunburned lips, but nothing takes away from the sheer beauty of the views, including a few patches of snow visible in a shadowed area.

We also took a trip to the Hualapai Reservation where they offer pontoon boat white water trips. Instead of paddling, you hang onto your seats on the sides of a motorized pontoon boat while the driver barrels through rapids for maximum splash and bumps. It was quite an experience and you can read my review at Yelp for the Hualapai (Walla-pie) River Runners. Another must-visit place is the Yuvapai Geology Museum. Out of their panoramic bay window, you will see rock formations from all the different ages. Finally, we ate several times at El Tovar Dining Room–a rustic restaurant with views of the Grand Canyon.

Since I’m a romance writer, I took a picture of a pair of lovers perched on the edge of the cliff watching the sunset at Grandview Point. I’m sure I’ll be coming up with a romance or romantic comedy set at the Grand Canyon. I learned about the grueling hikes, down the South Kaibab to the river and then up the Bright Angel, and I stood by while the mule guide was giving the orientation to the riders. Maybe I’ll have a personal trainer and a swapped itinerary for my heroine who finds herself on a vacation she didn’t expect. Yep. Grand Canyon is for Lovers.

Grand View Lovers, It’s a Long Way Down

Catch up with my books at my website. https://rachelleayala.net/ and if you’ve never been to the Grand Canyon, I hope you’ll be able to make it there someday. Aloha!

Travel to Kiev, and pray for the Ukrainians

As we follow the terrible news on TV and pray for the Ukrainians, I pulled my picture album and reminisced about my business trip to Ukraine in April 1997.

Located on the Dnieper River. Kiev (or Kyiv) is the capital and largest city in Ukraine with a population of three million inhabitants. It dates back to 560 AD and enjoys an authentic Eastern European culture.

Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti) is on the historical boulevard Khreschatyky. It is the focal point of the Independence Day celebrations every August to celebrate Ukraine’s breakaway from the former Soviet Republic but it is also remembered for the Orange Revolution of 1994.
The Dnieper  is one of the major rivers of Europe, rising in the Valdai Hills near Smolensk, Russia, before flowing through Belarus and Ukraine to the Black Sea.

As the program manager for a contract in Ukraine, I flew to Kiev with three people from our lab in Ohio, and met with our Belarusian driver, Sergei, who had driven from Minsk, Belarus, with two chemists we previously trained on analytical equipment.

We spent our first evening in Kiev, strolling through the main avenues, discovering the city, and admiring the beauty of the colorful cathedrals with golden domes, churches, statues and monuments.

Marinskyi Palace that serves as the official ceremonial residence of the President. The palace lies on the right bank of the Dnieper River in Kyiv.

Some of you may remember the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. Two explosions resulted in radioactive dust spread around the area, mainly to Belarus which is at 20 km north of Chernobyl and to Kiev at about 130km south of Chernobyl.

In 1997, my company was contracted by the DOD to equip and deliver a mobile laboratory to a military base in Uman, in Central Ukraine, about five hours away from Kiev. The two GC/MS—gas chromatogram/mass spectrometer—and other smaller instruments we installed would allow the detection and analysis of toxic substances in hazardous waste samples.

After a week of work installing and testing the equipment, I left the staff to continue the training and returned to Kiev to fly back to Munich, and then to New York. For my bad luck it was May 1st or Labor Day in Ukraine and Europe. Little did I know that the big avenues were blocked for a military parade with the President heading it. Sergei and I had to use the backroads. I had the chance to visit St. Sophia Cathedral and a fabulous monastery, but I almost missed my plane.

Kyevo-Pecherska Lavra, is a monastery’s cluster of gold-domed Orthodox churches built on top of a labyrinth of ancient caves. 
Closer view of the green dome church in the monastery.
Motherland Monument on the Dnieper River. We could see it from far away.
Saint Sophia Cathedral is a unique monument of
architecture and monumental art of the early 11th century having the biggest preserved collection of mosaics and frescoes of that period.

Kiev is such a beautiful city. The pastry is delicious and the amber jewelry out of this world. I bought amber necklaces, brooches, bracelets.

Pray for the Ukrainians’ safety and for peace.

HEAL MY HEART is set in Belarus. In a far away country, a baby girl, four little boys, and a handsome doctor may teach Dr. Jillian the true meaning of Christmas.

AMAZON

Four Corners Monument by @TaylorLeeWrites

Quiz: Where in America can you find four state governments, two semiautonomous Native American governments, and four US federal government departments. Answer: The Four Corners Monument.

Four Corners Monument

Believe it or not, this inauspicious monument marks the quadripoint in the Southwestern United States where the states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah meet. It is the only point in the United States shared by four states. The monument also marks the boundary between two semi-autonomous Native American governments, the Navajo Nation, and the Ute Mountain Tribe Reservation. As if that is not enough, the US Government has a large presence in the area specifically, the Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Department of Agriculture and the Forest Service.

Breathtaking Scenery

In addition to all these government entities, the Four Corners Monument area includes some of the most breathtaking scenery in the country. Extraordinary forest covered mountains, raging rivers, gorgeous red rock cliffs leave visitors like me speechless with wonder. If you get the chance, please visit the Four Corners Monument area.

Not surprisingly the human elements of the area are as varied as the geographic wonders. Ranchers, farmers, miners, cowboys, Qanon crazies, local and state government officials, law enforcement officials, White Supremacists, Artists, Granolas, Canabisseurs, Mormons, and Native Americans to mention a few.

Soaking Up The Scenery

I’ve now spent three summers soaking up the glorious scenery and varied cultures of this amazing area. And not surprisingly stoking my creative story-telling genes. This is me:

I’ve concluded that if ever there was a place where stories are born, it’s the Four Corners region. At least, in my imagination, it is filled with a variety of people—the good, the bad, and the seriously wicked.

Which brings me to my new release:

Rampage by Taylor Lee

Available for $0.99 for Kindle Readers.

She’s an investigative media superstar.

He’s a formidable county sheriff.

She’s determined to expose the insurrectionist leaders. He’s determined to stop her.

If ever there was an iconic Western county sheriff, it was Calian Begay. Ruggedly handsome, arrogance was his middle name. But then, having been elected by seventy-plus percent of the voters was no small feat. Particularly for the grandson of a famous Ute Indian chief.

Determined to take down the insurrectionist leaders threatening his county, Cal wasn’t interested in the foot soldiers. He was after the clandestine political and financial kingpins underwriting the dangerous violence.

Scarlett knew all her blockbuster exposé needed was for her to capture the leader of the American Patriotic Front addressing the “White is Might” conspiracy crazies. She frankly didn’t care if that compromised the sheriff’s campaign to torpedo the insurrection.

Remembering Cal’s fierce warning if she refused to pull back, Scarlett admitted the formidable sheriff had done what no man had. Made her think twice before she blew him off.

Face it, which was more compelling? Winning a coveted national award or obeying the arrogant sheriff who, after warning her for the third time, had the temerity to threaten her personally if she “didn’t behave.”

If you dig brazen media stars, tough-as-nails lawmen, and scorching passion, hop aboard Taylor Lee’s sizzling new thrill ride. Discover how challenging exposés can be when sex and violence are in the mix. Grab Rampage: Book 1; Mayhem on the Mountain and prepare to be wowed!

And while you are savoring the sexy sheriff and audacious superstar, dive into these two fantastic Box Sets, my Author Billboard pals and I created to celebrate the Christmas season.

Unforgettable Christmas Promises

My book in the Box set is: Nuthin’s Gonna Stop Us Now.

FREE! Festive Christmas Nights (Fabulous Freebie Collection Book 5)

My books in the Box set is: Blue Christmas and Special Ops and Cops.