From Book to Beach: 3 Favorite Hotels in Mexico

sunglasses isolated on whitePlanning a trip to Mexico? Wondering where to stay?

Readers often ask if the Palacio Réal, the hotel in Acapulco that Kurt Rucker manages in the Emilia Cruz mystery novels, is real. The answer is well, sort of.

The luxurious Palacio Réal  a composite of my three favorite hotels in Mexico.  Yes, I have stayed at all three and combined the best of each into the hotel in the books. This way, I get to re-enjoy my visits to each place with authentic descriptions each time the action in the books shifts to the hotel.

So if you are planning a trip to Mexico, these hotels are worth checking out!

Hacienda Los Laureles, Oaxaca

We stayed in this hotel several years ago when it was newly opened. It is an old Spanish hacienda two miles outside of Oaxaca proper, in a neighborhood called San Felipe del Aqua, that has been renovated with a sense of architectural history so none of the charm has been lost. The owners did everything they could to ensure we had a wonderful stay and fussed over our children with free desserts and appetizers. My daughter still recalls being called “la princesa” for a week.

After hard touristing at Monte Elban and other Oaxaca sites of wonder we’d spend late afternoons on the patio having bittersweet hot cocoa and soaking up the ambiance. We came loaded with restaurant recommendations for places in town but often ended up dining at the hotel. The food was amazing and the service warm and genuine.

Since that stay, the hotel has consolidated its reputation as the only 5-star AAA lodging in the Oaxaca area. It is a small gem off the beaten path.

Sheraton Maria Isabel Hotel and Towers, Mexico City

This hotel has so much to commend it. The first thing is a central location near the El Angel monument, the Colonia Cuauhtémoc business district, the US embassy, and the western edge of the Zona Rosa. The second is the shops on the ground floor including a good restaurant with reasonably priced food, a newsstand and souvenir shop, a clothing boutique, the first Starbucks in Mexico City, and a jewelry shop where I got a box covered in silver milagros charms. You can walk to a Sanborns department store for books and magazines. The hotel is a good base to explore the Zone Rosa district, including the Insurgentes market, across the wide Paseo de la Reforma (cross at the crosswalks only!!)

The third thing to commend this hotel is that the rooms are large, clean and everything you’d expect for an upscale hotel in a big city. The executive floors are worth the small extra amount, given that they come with butler service, a fantastic breakfast buffet in the executive lounge (you can watch the news in either English or Spanish depending where you sit) and an evening cocktail hour in the same place. You can get a reliable taxi out front. A much-vaunted St. Regis opened up a few blocks away but the Sheraton, in my view, is a much better location and value.

Related post: How to Find Love at Mexico City’s Markets

Camino Réal, Acapulco

If the fictional Palacio Réal reminds readers of any specific hotel, it is probably the Camino Réal. This luxe hotel is located on the eastern side of Acapulco bay, in an area called Puerto Marqués, not too far from the better-known Las Brisas resort. We stayed there twice, enjoying the secluded location, huge rooms, and terrific food. The hotel is a multi-level marvel built against the cliffside that its website describes as an architectural “cascade.” The way it is built allows for pools on multiple levels, excellent views, and a lot of quiet corners so it is easy to spend a lot of time there without running into many other guests.

Eating there is half the fun. Room service was wheeled in on a large round table draped with a floor-length tablecloth while the flagship restaurant cantilevered over the water made dinner a special occasion.

The out-of-the-way location keeps you out of the thick of the tourist activity in Acapulco, but the hotel has its own tour office and we were able to set up tours right there. Downtown Acapulco can feel similar to any busy beachfront town—albeit with better views—so staying at this hotel lets you have the experience that Acapulco was meant to be—a majestic sweep of ocean and the amenities to enjoy it.

In Other News

If you love mysteries and want to try out the Emilia Cruz series, sign up here to get THE BEAST, the story of how beat cop Emilia Cruz became the first and only female detective in Acapulco. You’ll also get two bonus reader guides and exclusive new mystery stories or book excerpts every month.

All the best, Carmen

Book Review: The Lighthouse by P.D. James

THE LIGHTHOUSE is a later book in the mystery series featuring Inspector Adam Dagliesh of Scotland Yard. If you haven’t read the earlier Dagliesh novels, you might feel as if you’d been invited to a party without knowing any of the other guests. But everyone else at the party does.

The book starts off with Dagliesh getting briefed in London about a remote island off the coast of Cornwall where a dead body has turned up. Combe Island is run by a private foundation with the express purpose of being a secluded respite for the world’s powerful men. No security needed.

The British government wants to use Combe for a conference and this dead body might throw a wrench into the works. Dagliesh takes two subordinates, Miskin and Benton-Smith, to help him solve the puzzle. The reader is not told the identity of the dead man.

Once the Dagliesh expedition is set, the action swings to Combe Island and inhabitants. Without telling the reader, however, we’ve gone back in time.

The novel now paints a picture of how all the inhabitants of the island hated nasty novelist Nathan Oliver, who came to Combe several times a year to badger his subservient daughter, provoke fights with everybody in sight, and write Important Novels of decreasing quality.

Once we realize that due to the remoteness of the island, one of the island inhabitants must be the killer—very much a Murder on the Orient Express plot–the novel jumps forward in time again to Dagliesh’s arrival on Combe. The murder investigation begins. Things progress at a glacial pace until an island resident is killed.

In between asking questions, Dagliesh thinks about his girlfriend quite a bit, and Miskin wonders about her boyfriend. Dagliesh is also revealed to be a poet. Overall, the assumption is that the reader knows much of the Dagliesh backstory.

The various motives for Oliver’s murder form the backbone of the novel. Everybody had a good reason to hate him but instead of hard detective work coming together at the end, Dagliesh wakes from a fever with the answer of whodunit. The climax is all about getting the murderer to turn himself in, rather than to catch him.

While P.D. James is a revered mystery writer, THE LIGHTHOUSE was a disappointment. Possibly this book review would be more enthusiastic if I’d started from the beginning of the series and knew more backstory. Possibly.

Writing About Counterfeit Money Without Getting Arrested

Have you seen the new US 100 dollar bill? Compared it to the old bill of the same denomination?

Money and Mystery

CliffDiver_by_CarmenAmatoThe changes in the $100 bill drive the plot of “The Cliff,” a short story from MADE IN ACAPULCO: The Emilia Cruz Stories. “The Cliff” later became the beginning of the full length Emilia Cruz novel, CLIFF DIVER.

In the story, Emilia meets Kurt Rucker and together they discover that a vehicle seized by the Acapulco police for a traffic infraction is loaded to the hubcaps with counterfeit money.

    Three hours later they were staring at six million green Estados Unidos dollars piled on the floor in her uncle Raul’s auto repair shop. The rear body panels of the Suburban were off, exposing the ingenious system welded into the car frame to accommodate brick-sized packages. Even the four-wheel drive mechanism had been cannibalized to create more hidden hauling capacity.

   “Money in, cocaine out,” Emilia said. “The Hudsons are mules.”

   Rucker fingered one of the dollar bills, his forehead furrowed with thought. The hotel manager had worked side-by-side with Tío Raul as if he repaired cars in a greasy garage every day. His beautifully starched shirt had been cast aside, revealing a white singlet undershirt and muscular arms. Both the white undershirt and khaki pants were now as dirty and oil-spotted as Tío Raul’s coveralls.

   “These are brand new bills,” he said.

   “So?” Emilia got him a glass of water from the big jug of Electropura purified water. Tío Raul had gone to the one-bedroom apartment over the shop to tell Tía Lourdes to make them all some breakfast.

   “A couple of years ago they changed the design of American money.” Rucker spread several bills on the tool bench. “Made the image bigger. Added a tint. New watermarks.” He took a swallow of water. “But these are the old design.”

   Emilia ran her finger over the crisp paper. “You think it’s counterfeit?”

Comparing

But I have a confession to make: I wrote the story before I ever held both an old and new $100 bill in my very own hands. This week, however, I was finally able to compare them side-by-side. I actually scanned two bills in order to create a featured image for this post, only to get a SERIOUS warning from Photoshop about altering scanned images of currency. Yikes. Hence the “Specimen” images from newmoney.gov, the website set up to tell the public about the changes to US currency.

Old US bill

US $100 bill, issued 1996 – 2013

The new bill, which entered circulation October 2013, “incorporates new security features to deter counterfeiters and help businesses and consumers tell whether a note is genuine,” according to the newmoney.gov website. According to a newmoney.gov press release, “The redesigned $100 note includes two new security features: a blue 3-D security ribbon with images of bells and 100s, and a color-changing bell in an inkwell” to help Washington “stay ahead of counterfeiting threats.”

new bill

New US $100 bill, issued Oct 2013

The US Secret Service has a great page on detecting counterfeit money, which you can read here. You can also read more about the changes in the US $100 bill in this 2010 USAToday article.

It worked in the story

But not the way you’d expect.

Of course not, because the story is set in Emilia Cruz’s Acapulco. It’s the Acapulco that tourists know; the sweep of the most beautiful bay in the world, the majesty of the clear blue Pacific, candlelit nights on the beach, and luxury hi-rises. But it is also the Acapulco that is a prize to be fought over by drug cartels–the city that is home to hookers and thieves, the streets where life is cheap and poverty is as pervasive as the wind off the ocean. Both of these versions of Acapulco claw at each other and force Emilia to survive between them. No investigation will be easy, no crime will be simple.

But there is one thing Emilia can always count on when she is investigating: money is involved.

In other news

Last week I reported that the Writing for Water team has now provided 10 people with clean water for life so far in 2014 with donations to Water.org based on book sales. Our goal is 25 for the year.

All this is made possible by readers like you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

If you are an author who would like to join us, we want to hear from you! Read more here and please contact me via email: carmen@carmenamato.net.

Also, on Thursday, subscribers to my monthly updates will get the the entire first chapter of the next Emilia Cruz mystery, DIABLO NIGHTS, delivered straight to their inbox. Get on the list and don’t miss it!

All the best, Carmen

P.S. Almost forgot–CLIFF DIVER is on SALE for $0.99 (Kindle only) for a limited time to celebrate the sneak peek at DIABLO NIGHTS! It is currently rated 4.7 out of 5 stars with 56 reviews.

Friday Fiesta: Focus, Book Discoverability, and a Discount

The Friday Fiesta is stuff worth celebrating from the past week. This week it’s how to focus on a goal, the quest for discoverability, and a book sale in defiance of the trolls. The margaritas are on me.

Focus

What with one thing and another, I’m having some trouble finishing the last big scene in the next Emilia Cruz mystery, DIABLO NIGHTS. Stuff that is less hard keeps getting in the way, like designing the new Mexico Mystery Writers Cartel blog. (more on this in a few weeks) My writing buddy has been missing his deadlines as well, so it is easy to laugh it off.

But books don’t write themselves. This coming week I need to renew my focus and “git ‘er done,” as Larry the Cable Guy says. I found this list of 8 Daily Practices for improving focus from The Culture-ist and thought others might benefit from it as well. 

Discoverability

I’m not the expert in this field, but an online chat this morning with a Facebook friend led me to comment that too many authors neglect their Author page on Amazon, missing an important opportunity. Some don’t even link all their books to their page . But the Amazon author page is like a one-stop-shop for projecting your author image. So a couple of tips in case you are an author:

Capture_amazon

 

  1. Use the same picture for your author page as you do on Twitter, Facebook, etc.
  2. Write a bio that gets up front the sort of books you write and who would enjoy them. Amazon lets you write a sizeable bio but only a certain portion shows when folks land on the page and most won’t click to see more.
  3. Make sure all your books are linked to your page. This isn’t automatic, you must add them via the Author Central interface.
  4. Link your blog, using the RSS feed address, via the Author Central interface. Ditto book trailers and related videos.

This week Amazon liked my review of IN THE WOODS by Tana French so much it shows up 3 times on my author page. Tech love.

Discount

Made in Acapulco_final_300pxI recently realized that a troll left a 1 star review for MADE IN ACAPULCO, complaining about a computer program. Obviously this has nothing to do with the book. For those who don’t know, trolls are people who surf Amazon and Goodreads, leaving damaging reviews at random. Often, the same review is given to multiple books.

In defiance of the troll activity, I’m offering MADE IN ACAPULCO for $0.99 this week. MADE IN ACAPULCO is a collection of 5 Emilia Cruz short stories. (Get the first story FREE here.)

MADE IN ACAPULCO takes place before the action in CLIFF DIVER and HAT DANCE. They reveal Emilia’s first troubled first year as the first and only female police detective in Acapulco. Many of the stories are based on true events in Mexico, including poet Javier Sicilia’s rallies to raise awareness of the missing in Mexico.

Nothing to do with some computer program.

So in defiance of trolls, MADE IN ACAPULCO is $0.99 for Kindle this week. If you pick up a copy, please leave a very non-troll review. Thank you!

In Other News

Did you see the March update for water.org? The Writing for Water team has now provided 10 people with clean water for life  because of readers like you. Goal for the year is 25.

Have you gotten your copy of The 3 Minute Guide to Great Book Reviews? It’s free when you subscribe, along with a free copy of THE BEAST, the first Emilia Cruz Story, plus The Top 10 Most Riveting International Mystery Series.

Thank you! All the best, Carmen

 

Book Review: In the Woods by Tana French

In The Woods coverThis week’s book review is a 5 star read. I love writing mysteries and I love reading them, too. The ones that send me to new places around the world are some of my favorites and The Dublin Murder Squad is quickly becomes a fascination. IN THE WOODS is the first in the series.

French, who is from Dublin and has a background in theater, writes as if she is narrating a play as the character of her main protagonist. In this case it is Adam Ryan, who now goes by Rob and is a detective on the fictional but fabled Dublin police Murder Squad. The reason for the name change is complicated: when Adam was a youngster, he and his two best friends went into the woods near their village outside Dublin. Two of the kids never were seen again, while Adam/Rob was found in shock, covered in blood, shirt torn, no memory of the trauma he’d survived. The case became a national outcry and investigation. To hide it, his family moved, he went to boarding school and college and changed his first name.

But the past catches up in an odd way; a girl is killed in the woods, in the same historic village. Ryan and his partner Cassie investigate without letting on that this is Ryan’s Waterloo.

The entire book is narrated by Ryan; his nightmares of the past, his piecing together of evidence, his relationship with Cassie, his drinking to dull his pain. The voice is deep inside his head, it’s relentless and addictive. The case is similar: relentless yet intangible; too many stray threads, people who are afraid yet manipulative. And then there are those who have been manipulated and they aren’t pretty. The story bogged a bit close to the end, but only for a few pages of complications. Otherwise it was engrossing and well paced. The slang is very Irish, good thing I already knew what a git was.

The undercurrent running throughout the book is what happened to Ryan and his friends when they were children. Why were the two other children never found? So there are really two crimes here, one in the past and one in the present. No spoilers, here, however, just a strong recommendation to read IN THE WOODS if you like your mysteries tall, dark, and Irish.

Related review: THE BAT by Jo Nesbo

Stay Updated

If you have yet to read THE BEAST: An Emilia Cruz Story, you can get it here. it’s the first story in the Emilia Cruz mystery police procedural series set in Acapulco. Beat cop Emilia knows her salary will double if she can make detective. No one wants her to get the job. But Emilia is a fighter. You’ll also get The 3 Minute Guide to Great Books Reviews!