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A Trip to Alaska

Thursday Thirteen

Last month hubby and I spent a fortnight in Alaska. Alaska is one place in the world, which is still a real wilderness. It is beautiful.

Thirteen Things About Alaska and Our Holiday

1. Alaska is the largest state of the USA, but is sparsely populated.

2. We visited Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Glacier National Park and Whittier, all places with limited connection by road. During the summer though, tourists flock to these towns via ferry and cruise ships.

3. Ketchikan is known for its rain but during our two visits (we cruised up from Vancouver to Whittier and back down to Vancouver) we had sunshine. It’s also called the salmon capital of the world, although Mr. Munro would dispute that fact since his fishing trip was a bust.

4. In Ketchikan, we wandered along Creek Street, the previous red-light district of the town and checked out the salmon returning to spawn. Lots of the salmon had died already and seagulls picked over their carcasses.

Ketchikan

5. From Ketchikan, we did a float plane flight to Neets Bay. There is a salmon hatchery there and it’s a favored place for the black bears to fish.

Beer at Neets Bay 

6. Our next stop was Juneau and the excursion I was looking forward to most. Here we did a helicopter ride to the top of Mendenhall Glacier and went dog-sledding. We had so much fun and now I’m obsessed by all-things dog-sledding.

Dog Sledding

7. Skagway is another frontier town and it has its roots in the Klondike goldrush. The boardwalks and wide streets were full of tourists. During the summer, the locals must become tired of wandering tourists who stop in the middle of the street, right in front of vehicles.

8. Glacier National Park is 3.3 million acres of mountains, glaciers, rain forest, fjords and wild coast line. It’s pristine and beautiful. We saw a glacier calving, sea otters and seals. Breathed in lots of fresh air!

Glacier

9. Whittier was the turnaround point for the cruise where some passengers left and others joined. Whittier is a city but the population as at 2014 was a mere 217.

10. From Whittier, we went on a bus tour. A tunnel (the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel) connects Whittier with the Portage Glacier Highway. The tunnel is 2.5 miles long and is used by both rail and road vehicles. Access to the one-way tunnel is run by a strict schedule on the hour from Whittier and the half-hour from Bear Valley.

11. We visited the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. This 200-acre center provides refuge for orphaned, injured and ill animals—ones that are unable to survive in the wild. They also release animals such as elk and bison back into the wild. We saw bears, porcupine (the cutest things), elk, wood bison, a wolf, an eagle and musk-ox. I really enjoyed our visit here.

12. On our return to Skagway, we hired a car and drove up to the Yukon. The fall colors were starting to show, and once we drove above the mist and clouds that covered the mountains, we had gorgeous weather. This is a shot taken not far from Carcross.

Yukon

13. One of the highlights for me was seeing all the different animals. Whales and otters, seals and salmon, black bears and brown bears, eagles and the husky dogs. A part of me would love to visit during the winter, just to see how cold it really gets. If you haven’t had a chance to visit Alaska, do put it on your bucket list. As the biggest state, there is heaps to explore and they have good local beer.

Sea of Change: 13 Facts About Killer Whales

Thursday Thirteen

This week, my latest book went live at most online retailers. Sea of Change is a paranormal shifter romance featuring orcas.

Thirteen Facts About Killer Whales

1. The killer whale is also known as an orca.

2. They are a toothed whale and are actually the largest members of the dolphin family.

3. They are a mammal and eat a carnivore diet. (fish, seabirds, squid, seals and other whales)

4. They can live up to 80 years in the wild. The females usually live longer than the males.

5. The killer whale lives in a pod of family members, and these pods can contain as many as 40 orca.

6. Killer whales can be divided into resident pods and transient pods, a fact I used in my Sea of Change story.

7. Resident pods tend to frequent one area while transient pods have much larger territories.

8. The pod members work together to hunt for food.

9. Each pod communicates in a distinctive manner using echolocation.

10. Female orcas give birth every three to ten years and the pregnancy lasts for 15 – 18 months. The mother nurses the calf for at least a year.

11. The killer whale has very distinctive black and white coloring. They are intelligent and acrobatic, frequently breaching, spyhopping and slapping their flippers.

12. It’s easy to tell the difference between the male and female. The males are longer and bulkier. Their dorsal fins are much larger, reaching higher than a metre in height.

13. Sea of Change

Sea of Change by Shelley Munro

BLURB:

A sexy face in the crowd…

Orca shifter Asia Bolino can’t believe the gorgeous cutie is Roman Anderson. They belong to enemy tribes, but she’d love to run her fingers over his…assets. Roman doesn’t recognize her, and in a moment of weakness, Asia agrees to a late-night date, a little forbidden pleasure.

Someone attacks Roman while he waits for Asia. Aware of his shifter status, Asia does the only thing she can—she takes him back to her apartment. The problem is when he regains consciousness, he thinks they’re married. He parades around her apartment wearing nothing but a smile, and Asia is weak. She succumbs to his charm and skilful loving. Hip-deep in lies, she’s aware the sensual bubble might burst at any moment. That might mean bloodshed, and she can’t allow that to happen. Worse, Roman doesn’t seem to recall he’s a shifter.

Asia struggles with guilt while melting at Roman’s touch. Nothing can come of their relationship, and now it seems someone knows the truth and they’re both in danger.

Order at: Amazon| All Romance ebooks| iBooks US| iBooks NZ| Kobo| Barnes & Noble

Sources: National Geographic.com and Department of Conservation, New Zealand

13 Eerie American Destinations

Thursday Thirteen

I picked up a copy of Eerie America: Travel Guide of the Macabre by ER Vernor & Kevin Eads at my local library. An interesting guide. I’ve picked out thirteen spots that appealed to me for my TT this week.

Thirteen Macabre American Destinations

1. The Body Farm, Tennessee – a place used to study changes that occur in bodies after death. There are usually around fifty bodies in various states of decay. Some are submerged in water while others are exposed to the elements. A very important place that helps forensic scientists to learn.

2. The Bullock Hotel, Deadwood, South Dakota – Seth Bullock and Sol Star opened a hardware store on this site and later added a hotel over the store. It’s said that Seth Bullock haunts this hotel. He’s often seen while staff are standing idle, and it’s said he expects his staff to work hard!

3. Extraterrestrial Highway, Nevada – popular with UFO enthusiasts who drive along this highway hoping to see evidence of UFOs.

4. Bannock Ghost Town, Montana – A gold town established in 1862. Visitors to the Hotel Meade and the hospital have encountered strange apparitions.

5. Ball Cemetery, Springfield, Nebraska – One of the residents, Rattlesnake Pete, is said to wander the cemetery and torment visitors.

6. Moore House, Villisca, Iowa – The residents of the house were discovered dead, murdered by an axe to the head. Visitors have heard children playing and laughing and whispering.

7. Idaho State Penitentiary, Idaho – this is a popular place with ghost hunters. Visitors say they can feel the presence of the inmates and the guards, and some visitors have aborted their tours because they can’t stand the creepy atmosphere.

8. Alcatraz, San Francisco, California – a well-known prisoner that is said to be full of restless spirits. I didn’t see any when hubby and I visited many years ago, but it certainly had an atmosphere!

9. The Bird Cage Theatre, Tombstone, Arizona – this was considered one of the wildest places in the wild west. It was the scene of over twenty-five murders. Visitors and employees have seen ghosts of cowboys and prostitutes. Hearing music and yelling coming from different parts of the building isn’t unusual.

10. Sing Sing Prison Museum, New York – this museum houses genuine weapons taken from inmates. Visitors can have their photos taken in cells.

11. Ford Theater, Washington, DC – Some people say the assassination of Lincoln replays here. Other people have heard gunshots or running footsteps.

12. Lake Champlain, Vermont – it’s said a beast inhabits the waters here much like the Loch Ness Monster. Locals have nicknamed the beast Champ.

13. Nemacolin Castle, Pennsylvania – Visitors have captured strange images on film, and it’s said that up to ten different ghosts inhabit the castle. Some believe the castle is a portal to the spiritual world.

Have you visited any of these places? Do you have any favorite creepy places to recommend?

Thirteen Ways I Learned to Write About Sex

I’m thrilled to welcome Marian Perera, a fellow Samhain Publishing author. She’s celebrating the release of her paranormal fantasy romance, The Highest Tide and has a fun post about sex. Smile with tongue out

Thursday Thirteen

Thirteen ways I learned to write about sex

Thanks for hosting me, Shelley! I like interesting lists, so when I found your blog I read through all the Thursday13 posts first. Those gave me the idea of this guest post.

But here’s the story behind it. I grew up in the Middle East, in a devoutly religious family, a sex-segregated school and an extremely conservative country. How conservative? If a couple kissed on a TV show, this was cut out before the show was broadcast. So speaking of kisses, my first had to wait until I went to college in the States. I was that sheltered.

And now I write romances with explicit sex in them.

Of course, this transition from saint to sinner didn’t happen all at once. So here are a few of the steps I took to become an enthusiastic proponent of the open-bedroom-door policy…

1. Read every romance novel I could lay my hands on, from Sweet Savage Love onwards.

2. Bought and read Stacia Kane’s book Be A Sex-Writing Strumpet. The book is so blunt it overcame a lot of my inhibitions.

3. Reminded myself that it’s not about what I’ve been taught, or what my family believes. It’s about what’s right for the characters and the story.

4. Reminded myself that my editors have read hundreds of steamy romances, so there’s no need to be embarrassed if they refer to certain, uh, technical aspects of the scenes.

5. Kept sex scenes in-character. If the couple enjoy verbal teasing, there can be a rest in the action where they playfully spar with each other.

6. Put the characters in unusual locations. Not only is this fun, I get to think about where they could have sex long before they reach that point. Cave on a deserted island? Got it. Inside a hollow baobab tree? Came out earlier this year.

7. Pushed my personal envelope. Most of my romances are a slow burn where the sexual tension builds up until the characters finally give in. With The Highest Tide, they got their clothes off in the first chapter—and had good reason to do so.

8. Used sex to heighten the characters’ emotional struggle. At the end of The Coldest Sea (coming out later this year), the heroine has settled down with a job she enjoys, and she reluctantly tells the hero, a freighter captain, that she can’t just leave to marry him. So he makes love to her in an intense, the-last-time-we’ll-have-each-other way. The story ends happily, but I milked that scene for all it was worth in terms of heartache.

9. Read some really bad sex scenes. It’s good to know what not to do—for instance, I don’t believe it’s ever arousing to mention the heroine’s urethra.

10. Learned to drop the occasional f-bomb. I don’t use this word very often, so when it occurs—especially when the hero says it in a sexually charged moment—it packs a punch.

11. Held true to my convictions. I believe that even in fiction, when a woman says no, a man should back off (unless they’re play-acting or the scene is written as assault). So I’ve written hot makeout scenes which stopped when the heroine remembered a good reason not to go further. That made it even better when she did want it.

12. Figured out how to incorporate contraceptives into fantasy romance. Or, if they’re not used, to show why not. One of my heroines is infertile, and knows she is, and doesn’t end up with a surprise baby at the end.

13. Wrote sexy fanfics. Less pressure there. Plus, they were Transformers fanfics. If I can write about giant robots having sex, I can write about anyone having sex.

Bio : Marian Perera started reading fantasy at 6 when she found a huge hardcover copy of The Lord of the Rings. Her parents replaced that with a more age-appropriate paperback of The Hobbit. Later she discovered another book with an adorable bunny rabbit on the cover. Yes, that was Watership Down. She had to wait ten more years for romance novels, but once she discovered those she never looked back, and now combines the two for maximum fun.

Marian was born in Sri Lanka, grew up in Dubai, studied in the United States (Georgia and Texas), worked in Iqaluit and lives in Toronto. For now. With five hot fantasy romances published by Samhain and Loose Id, she’s just getting started. She blogs at Flights of Fantasy, is on Twitter, has lots of excerpts on her website and still writes the occasional giant-robot-smutfic with no guilt whatsoever.

The Highest Tide

BLURB:

One touch, and the tide isn’t all that’s rising. When brothel health inspector Jason Remerley finds a uniformed woman waiting impatiently in the Velvet Court parlor, wanting to hire a man’s services, he’s struck by lightning. His intense, immediate attraction compels him to pretend his way into her arms.

Enough silver, and most men forget about Captain Lera Vanze’s half-burned face. She senses something off about the handsome, ill-dressed prostitute who sells himself so cheaply. But with his first touch, goose bumps turn to shivers of desire—right before the truth drives them in opposite directions.

Her fury is still simmering when they face each other in a more “official” capacity. She’s joined a warship to stop a terrorist only Jason can identify. Though trust is scarce, they’re swept away in a tidal wave of murderous plots and an explosive attraction that could leave them marooned in an emotional—and very real—minefield.

Warning: She knows how to wield her sword, he knows just how, when, and where to apply his…mind. Contains deception in a brothel, sex in a cave, a shark with a bad habit, and one very large wave.

Samhain Publishing | Amazon

Do you have any questions for Marian or tips to add to her list?

13 Things About Tomatoes

Thursday Thirteen

I love eating fresh tomatoes. Actually, I love eating tomatoes full stop, and I’m eating a lot at present. Often my lunch will be sliced tomato on toast with lots of fresh ground black pepper.

Tomato

Thirteen Things About Tomatoes

1. Tomatoes originated in the Andes, around the area of modern day Peru.

2. Botanists categorize the tomato as a fruit rather than a vegetable because it grows from a flowering plant and contains seeds.

3. China is the largest producer of tomatoes, followed by the US and India.

4. There are around 7500 different varieties grown worldwide.

5. They are rich in lycopene, an antioxidant that’s great for the heart and effective in fighting some types of cancer.

6. Cooked tomatoes are healthier since the heat releases more beneficial chemicals.

7. The town of Bunol hosts the world’s largest tomato fight.

8. Tomatoes are members of the deadly nightshade family.

9. Tomatoes didn’t become widely eaten in Europe until the 18th century.

10. The first cultivated tomatoes were yellow and the size of the cherry. They became known as golden apples.

11. When tomatoes first arrived in Europe they were also called Peruvian apples.

12. Elizabethans thought the red color signified danger and that they were poisonous.

13. Most of the tomato scent comes from the leaves and the stem rather than the fruit, which is why vine tomatoes have a stronger aroma.

Are you a fan of tomatoes? Do you like them raw or cooked best?

Thirteen Things About the Baobab Tree

Thursday Thirteen

I’m currently working on the third book in my House of the Cat series. One of the characters is a tremin, and although sentient, he bears many characteristics of a tree. Hubby and I were walking the dog, and I said to him, “My character is a tree. Not a real tree, at least not all the time. He needs to be a tree that can survive in the desert. What sort of tree would he be?”

Hubby didn’t hesitate. “A baobab tree,” he said.

It was a duh moment for me. We’d seen enough of them when we visited Africa. A baobab was perfect, so I’ve taken many characteristics and shaped them to make Kelvin, my tremin.

Baobab Tree

Thirteen Facts About the Baobab Tree

1. The baobab grows in Africa, Madagascar and Australia. Six of the eight species grow in Madagascar, which has puzzled botanists for a long time.

2. The baobab hates waterlogged roots.

3. It can grow back new bark even if fully stripped. The fibres of the bark can be used for roofing and to make ropes, which is used in fishing, baskets and nets.

4. The seed pods are huge. The pith inside can be used to make a refreshing drink, which tastes like sherbet. It can also be used as a substitute for cream of tartar.

5. Sometimes the pith is used in a medicine as a replacement for quinine.

6. Locals use the empty seed pobs as cups and containers.

7. Some of the trees are enormous with huge girths. One called Chapman’s baobab had a base of 85 feet in circumference.

8. The trees are unusual in that they look as if they’re planted upside down.

9. The trees store a lot of water in their trunks to sustain them during the dry season. A perfect fact for my plot!

10. Some legends state that each baobab contains an elephant inside, waiting to get out. A way of explaining its huge trunk.

11. The Kalahari bushman believe the baobab offended God and in punishment, he planted it upside down.

12. The flowers of the tree bloom at night. Bats thump into them while hunting for food, and in the process help with pollination.

13. The seeds hang down on long stalks and are about the size of a coconut.

Source: The Remarkable Baobab Tree by Thomas Pakenham.

I love trees and from where I sit right now, I can see quite a few varieties. My favorites are some of our New Zealand native trees, which are just about all evergreen. Some, like the kowhai and the pohutukawa, have gorgeous flowers.

What is your favorite type of tree?

13 Animals and Birds that Mate for Life

Thursday Thirteen

As a romance author, I believe in happy relationships and happy endings. I live them everyday while write and reading my books. While some humans are monogamous, there is an equal number of those who cheat or move on to another partner for one reason or another.

The other day I was thinking about this and wondered what other animals or birds mated for life.

Thirteen Animals and Birds that Mate for Life

1. Swans

2. Wolves, which makes the werewolf the perfect hero/heroine in a romance novel.

3. Penguins

4. Gibbon Apes

5. Barn owls

6. Brolga cranes

7. Pigeons

8. Cockroaches

9. Bald Eagle

10. Termites

11. French Angel fish

12. Royal NZ Albatross

Albatros Colony

13. Atlantic puffin

Like humans there are exceptions with the above birds and animals, but generally the creatures in this list stay with the same mate throughout their lives.

You already know I adore a happy ever after story. When you read a book featuring romantic elements, do you enjoy cliffhanger endings, or do you like all the plot strands to tie up and the characters to walk off into the sunset together?

Making a List, Checkin it Twice!

I’ve participated in Thursday Thirteen for quite a few years now. I’m shifting things up a little this year – changing the rules. Instead of doing a list of thirteen items each week, I intend to vary the length of my list.

New Zealand Holiday 2014

Five Places I Visited Over the Christmas Break

Hubby and I ran away for Christmas and took a cruise around New Zealand and over to Melbourne in Australia.

1. We walked around Mt Maunganui and enjoyed a sunny day at The Mount. After our walk we relaxed with a few drinks. (photo of the beach – top far right)

2. During our stop at Wellington, we visited the Weta Workshop, famous for all the movie special effects. This is Golem from Lord of the Rings.

3. On Christmas day, we stopped at Port Chalmers, not far from Dunedin in the South Island. With not much open, we decided to go for a walk to counteract those Christmas goodies. We took photos of the Holy Trinity church.

4. Our walk took us upward as we tackled a hill. The road down was through shady bush.

5. The seas became rougher after Christmas day as a storm passed. The dining rooms were quieter and many people were sea sick. I didn’t get sick but I “visited” the middle of the ship because the range of motion is less there. The glass of ginger ale helped to settle my stomach too!

What did you do over your Christmas break?

13 Events From This Week in London History

 

Thursday Thirteen

I’m currently reading The London Book of Days by Peter de Loriol. For my TT this week, I thought I’d give you a quick rundown of some of the things that happened this week in London history.

Thirteen Events from London History

1. Nov 24 1434 – There was a severe frost. The cold snap continued until Feb 1435 and the river Thames froze over. Frost fair alert!

2. Nov 24 1740 – A man called William Duell was hanged at Tyburn. His body was prepared for dissection by surgeons, but they found he was still breathing! They ended up deporting him instead.

3. Nov 25 1944 – World War two is in full swing. By this date 251 V2 bombs had been dropped on London. The first V2 bomb was dropped on 8 Sep 1944.

4. Nov 25 1952 – A murder mystery play called The Mousetrap, written by Agatha Christie, opened at the New Ambassadors Theatre. This show is still running in London at St Martin’s Theatre. I’ve seen the show twice and loved it both times.

5. Nov 26 1703 – A hurricane struck London. It ripped off roofs, destroyed spires and turrets and forced ships from their moorings.

6. Nov 26 1962 – The Beatles recorded their single Please Please Me at the Abbey Road Studios.

7. Nov 26 1969 – Margaret Thatcher said in an interview, “No woman in my time will be Prime Minister…Anyway, I would not want to be Prime Minister, you have to give yourself 100 percent.”

8. Nov 26 1983 – Gold bars worth 26 million pounds were stolen from Brink’s-Mat security warehouse at Heathrow Airport. The resulting investigation took almost 10 years and most of the gold was never found.

9. Nov 29 1814 – The Times newspaper was printed by steam instead of manual power. The steam printing press could print 1100 sheets an hour.

10. Nov 29 1855 – A public meeting was held at Willis’s Rooms to raise funds for what became the Nightingale School of Nursing.

11. Nov 29 1934 – Prince George, Duke of Kent married Princess Marina of Greece at Westminster Abbey.

12. Nov 30 1016 – King Edmund II of England was reputedly stabbed in the bowels whilst in the outhouse. He died on the same day.

13. Nov 30 1936 – A small fire at Crystal Palace, Sydenham raged out of control and destroyed the entire building. 88 fire engines were deployed to fight the fire. Melted glass was everywhere.

The London Book of Days is a really interesting book full of snippets about London history. If you enjoy history, you’ll love flicking through this book.

Thirteen Holiday Highlights

Thursday Thirteen

Hubby and I had an awesome holiday in September and visited the Baltic area along with parts of the Mediterranean.

Thirteen Holiday Highlights

1. Visiting St Petersburg, Russia and gawking at some of the many treasures displayed in the palaces and mansions. So many valuables everywhere!

Peterhof Palace

Peterhof Palace and the gravity fed fountains in front of the palace. They’re switched on a 11.00am each day.

2. Eating fresh wild blueberries purchased from a Helsinki market. Hubby ate the reindeer meatballs and some tiny fish.

3. Seeing the Viking Museum and the incredible boats, which are still mainly intact in Oslo, Norway.

Viking Ship

4. Visiting the Folk Museum with the range of old buildings that have been relocated to make a village. Loved the Stave Church and the buildings with grass growing on the roofs. Saw a man up on a roof, mowing the grass.

Stave Church

5. The Vasa Museum in Stockholm. The Vasa is an old ship that sank in the harbor on its maiden voyage. The king had ordered more cannons, which wasn’t a good idea! Who was going to argue?

Vasa, Stockholm

6. Dubrovnik  – a place I’ve wanted to visit for ages. We spent far too long in the heat, wandering around the walls of the old city and exploring the buildings inside.

7. Corfu – exploring the old fort and finding a taverna for lunch. Delicious!

8. Venice. I love Venice, and it’s never a hardship to get lost in the back streets. It was the Regatta on the day we were there, and we saw the parade of old gondolas down the Grand Canal. Discovered a fun place to have a drink (The Corner Pub), tried a peach bellini and had a hazelnut gelato. Yum, yum, yum!

Me in a Traghetto on the Grand Canal

9. Visited Gibraltar and caught the cable car up to the top of the Rock. Got up close to the Barbary apes that make the Rock their home.

10. Visited London where we lived for six years and hadn’t realized how much I missed this city. It was the same but different too, with lots of rebuilding going on.

11. Made quick visits to the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museums. So much history and lots of fascinating things to gawk at.

12 Walking around many of the London sights. Walking in Hyde Park and visiting the pubs where we worked in London. Walking, walking, walking until our feet ached.

13. Afternoon tea at the Ritz. Expensive but such a lot of fun and so memorable. Scones with jam and clotted cream, tiny sandwiches and lots of delicious cakes plus lots of tea. Oh, and a glass of champagne to start.