Spotlight on The Heart Collector by Barbara Russell

I’m very excited to share my review of The Heart Collector by Barbara Russell!

The Heart Collector was a wonderful, lushly-written read. Barbara Russell’s characters are so well-rounded and full of life, they jump off the page. Her heroine, Isabel, is at once strong and vulnerable, innocent and intelligent. The world-building is fantastic!

I especially liked the side-characters, such as Trigger, who immediately stole my heart. They’ve been written to feel real and relatable, not just flat, two-dimensional pawns to help the story along.

The steam punk setting is well-written, also, and it’s so cool for me as an American to read something set in NZ (even a fantasy NZ), because it’s an exotic twist to the genre. The steam punk aspects never become overwhelming or distracting, and it’s clear that Barbara Russell has taken her time with her world-building.

I highly recommend this slow-burn romance! 


Pirate Weapons — The Grenade

When one thinks of weapons during the Age of Sail, one automatically thinks of the cutlass, the cannon, and the flintlock. Some of the lesser-known weapons were just as deadly, if not more brutal, than what we normally associate with pirates, the Royal Navy, and common sailors.

Take, for instance, the grenade.

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Believe it or not, grenades have been around for centuries. Even the Crusaders used them. Pirates and sailors in the 17th and 18th centuries were especially fond of –or terrified of–this weapon meant for boarding and close combat situations.

Most were made of iron, and were either filled with shot or nasty things like nails, scraps of metal, glass, small shot, or whatever was on hand that would cause a nasty wound when the fuse burned down to the gunpowder inside.

On some occasions, nails or shot would be fused to the outside of the casing using pine tar, then wrapped in cloth again with an extra layer of tar, just to be even deadlier.

Sometimes, these grenades were made of glass, and could be improvised from common liquor bottles.

Image result for glass grenade

Many common sailors, when facing down a pirate ship, would surrender without a fight, possibly to avoid weapons just like these.




Pirates and Foodstuffs–The 18th Century Lowdown

An immense amount of research goes into the writing of an historical novel, be it romance or otherwise. Quite often, a lot of the most fascinating minutia never make it into the novel. While I was writing Three Star Island, a time travel romance set on the coast of the Carolina colony during 1721, I became captivated with the complex nature of trade between the English colonies stretching from parts of Georgia and northward, and the Spanish colonies to the south. What interested me the most was the impact piracy had on the exchange of goods between nations.

Especially food.

When Captain William Payne shipwrecks on the tiny coastal island where my heroine, Penelope Saunders lives, his pirate ship, Night Fury, has a hold full of illicit cargo. His goods are both captured from other ships on his way north from Florida, and illegally bought in the Spanish port of St. Augustine. Here are a few of the items he’d have been carrying, and their importance to trade and the English dinner table.


Rum was not only a staple of sailing life, it played a large role among the land-bound colonists, as well. Rum punch was quite popular at parties and celebrations, and was less expensive than brandy or whiskey, therefore making it very popular among the poor and working classes. Punch was often made a mixture of key limes, rum, and sugar. Although some colonists filtered water through jugs filled with charcoal in order to remove some of the less desirable detritus from it, this didn’t always equal water free from bacteria. Therefore, alcohol was a surefire way to stave off any waterborne diseases.


Tea was another drink that helped ensure one didn’t develop a horrible disease such as cholera, mostly because in order to brew tea, one must first boil the water it’s steeped in. It could be an extremely expensive commodity, however. In Three Star Island, Penelope lives in poverty, unable to afford tea on her own. Being a time traveler and an historian, however, she would have been hesitant to purchase tea even if she had the money.

Tea often was shipped in the form of large, pressed bricks ranging from a few inches across to about the size of a high school yearbook. In order to keep the tea leaves from crumbling during shipping, binders were needed. Those binders were often ox blood or manure. Penny makes sure she sticks to coffee because of this, also available in the Colonies at the time.


Everyone loves spices of some sort. Both Spanish and English colonists adored spices such as cinnamon, mace, and nutmeg, and a huge number of recipes from the era include allspice. Spanish baking was rife with almond and cinnamon delights, often cooked in conjunction with saints’ days and holidays. Cinnamon was also sometimes added to a Spanish breakfast favorite: hot cocoa, a delicacy taken from the natives in Central and South America.


Oranges play a small role in a scene in Three Star Island. St. Augustine, one of Spain’s oldest colony towns, which is still situated off the coast of Florida, is not only the port Captain Payne calls home, but an enormous producer of oranges.Unlike other tropical fruit, many of which English colonists didn’t have the taste for, oranges were very popular among both the British and the Spanish alike. During the time in which the novel is set, England and Spain are bitter rivals and enemies. A treaty made in 1670 attempted to settle disputes between the two kingdoms, yet trade was still illegal.

In addition to this, the Spanish crown dictated that all goods exported and imported were to be produced exclusively for and by Spain, and were to be transported solely by on Spanish vessels.The English, however, turned a blind eye to this, and quite gleefully defied the Spanish King’s wishes by doing trade with pirates, privateers, and “unscrupulous” merchants. Oranges were high on the list. Anastasia Island sits just off the coast of St. Augustine, and had massive orange groves. A little over a decade after the novel is set, twenty-eight thousand oranges made up a cargo headed for Charleston, despite the fact little else in the main came out of St. Augustine.

All of these products would have been highly sought-after by the Colonists, especially at a cut rate. Pirates, privateers, and smugglers of the time made certain Spain and England did steady business with each other despite the animosity the kingdoms held for each other. And without them, Three Star Island would never have been written.

Read an excerpt from Three Star Island!

Chapter One
     Penelope stood in the crater the time portal had sliced into
the tree line. Sheared-off branches sprouted new growth overhead,
and grass choked the scorched ground, concealing most of the sand
that had been fused into glass globules by the rift. Frowning,
she dislodged one of the spheres with the tip of her shoe and
kicked it into the dunes. This gate hadn’t opened in months.
     Two days prior, a hurricane had ravaged Three Star. Alone on
the southern tip of the island, Penny had ridden out the storm in
her farmhouse while gales ripped up centuries-old live oaks by
their roots and tossed debris through the walls of her
outbuildings. She’d seen a time gate’s flicker in the immediate
aftermath half a mile from where she now stood on the beach, but
there had been no reason to dash out into the dwindling rain in
hopes of reaching it before it shut.
     None of them would let her go home again.
     Grasping her skirts in one hand, she made her way through
the oat grass to ascertain what the storm had offered her in
compensation. The summer of 1721 had been a blistering one,
providing scarcely any rain to offset the heat. With few
thunderstorms of much note, ships in the area had enjoyed a
season of calm, returning to port with full holds and happy
sailors, and Penny’s larder suffered for it. Without wreckage to
pick through, she’d survived on meager rations from her garden
and the bones of a sloop that ran aground on the shoals to the
     Yesterday threw one more long, hard bout of rain at the
island, keeping her inside until dusk. Now, with the sun a few
hours into the sky, she hurried to collect her share of the
shattered remains of dead men’s fortunes. This time, she was
determined it wouldn’t bother her. She tucked a short strand of
hair behind her ear, knuckled her glasses higher, and proceeded
to the shore.
     The sea mirrored the heavens, flat and tranquil. Whitecaps
lapped the sand, pulling back to reveal a stripe of broken shells
stretching as far as she could see. Currents funneled past the
rock barrier jutting out into the water, and a smattering of
planks and splintered crates gathered on the sand bars the rising
tide would soon submerge.
     Penny stooped to dip her fingers into a mountain of sea
foam. Lacework-white and delicate, it dissolved at her touch. A
flicker of movement caught her eye. Slanting toward the beach on
a downdraft, a laughing gull shrieked its peculiar, broken cry
and swooped over a figure lying in the surf.
     Her stomach dropped. The waves had disgorged a body.
     Straightening, she fidgeted with her apron strings. The tide was
rising. Soon, the ocean would reclaim the life it had taken,
leaving no trace of the drowned man behind. Here, he was alone
and unknown. Somewhere else, however, he would be an empty seat
at a hearth, a bed half-filled, a promise unkept. Like her, he
could never go home again.
     Penelope sighed. Unable to bury him, she could at least bear
witness to his return to the sea. Keeping close to the water, she
trudged toward him.
     She stopped when his arm moved. It was a tiny motion she
could’ve mistaken for a trick of the wind, his sleeve toyed with
by the breeze, yet when his fist clenched the sand, she was
     He was alive.
     “Son of a . . .”
     The ocean licked his feet, greedy for the life it had been
refused. She picked up her skirts and ran. Speeding to him, she
whispered a prayer to the waves, the tide, the elements, anything
but the god she no longer believed in. Crashing to her knees
beside him, she snatched off her broad-brimmed straw hat and
shielded his face with it.
     His skin was crimson, scorched past its tan by the sun. Sand
caked the blood on his waistcoat and salted his hair, turning his
red locks blonde. Cracked lips attempted words. He managed a
     Penny put a hand to his chest. “Don’t worry, I’m here. You’re going
to be all right.”
     Blue eyes slitted open, working hard to focus.
     “Don’t move.” She plucked a strand of seaweed from his
close-cropped beard. “I’m going to go bring my cart closer to get
you in it, so you’re going to have to hang tight here for a bit.”
     “I’m alive.”
     “Yes, and I need you to stay that way. Can you do that for
     His tongue crowded his mouth, thickened by dehydration. He
     “Good.” She glanced around for something to prop her hat on
while she was gone. Her eyes snagged on the cutlass shoved into
his belt. Intricate patterns decorated its hilt, matching the
leather scabbard the sea had done its best to disfigure. It was a
far more beautiful weapon than any common sailor or Royal Navy
man would carry, and it gave her pause.
     He grasped her skirts.
Startled into action, Penny unsheathed the sword and jammed
it into the sand by his head. Tying her hat to its hilt by the
blue ribbons fluttering in the wind, she maneuvered it to cast a
shadow across his face and untangled his fingers from her dress.
His knuckles were a mass of bruises and scabs.
     “Don’t leave me,” he rasped.
     “I’m not,” she said. “Not for long.”
     His desperation cut through her apprehension. She brushed
his hair from his forehead and searched his bloodshot eyes. “We
have to get you off the beach. I’ll only be gone a short while.
Just promise me you’ll be here when I get back.”
     A corner of his mouth curled. He nodded again.
     Penny dashed off to fetch the cart, her heart in her throat.
     She’d secured her donkey at the tree line, yards from the dunes.
Pines and oaks stunted by the constant wind formed a barrier
between her house and the beach, the path through it clogged by
storm-shattered branches and underbrush. It would take days to
clear. The return would be hell.
     Rushing back to the stranger, she knelt beside him and
smiled. “Hi there. Miss me?”
     He struggled onto an elbow.
     Putting her arms around his shoulders, she helped him sit
up. “I’m not going to lie. This isn’t going to be fun. I can’t
get the cart down here, so we’ve got a walk ahead of us. We’re
going to start by getting you into the shade.” She pointed to the
tree break.
     “Sword,” he grunted.
     “Shade first. Sword later.”
     A mass of solid muscles, the castaway nearly bent her double
with the effort of getting him to his feet. They shuffled slowly
to the crescent cut out by the time gate, Penny alternating
between encouragement and a few choice expletives. She sat him on
a severed tree stump and ran back for her hat and his sword.
     She returned to find him frowning at the unnatural dome the
time gate had slashed in the trees overhead.
     “Lightning,” she explained, hoping he was too dazed to catch
the lie.
     It took a quarter of an hour to get to the cart. She
insisted he rest along the way, fearful that sunstroke and his
rapid heartbeat would send his body into shock. Once they reached
the wagon, she guided him to the rear and gestured to the bed.
     “Almost there.”
     “Can’t.” He swayed, clinging to her shoulder.
     “Yes, you can.” She transferred his grip to the wagon wheel
and knelt in front of him, lacing her hands together. “I’m right
here. Step up.”
     With her help, he tumbled into the cart, panting. His eyes
fluttered shut.
     “Hard part’s done.” She tossed his sword beside him. “Don’t
make me regret this.”
     She clambered onto the wagon seat and hurried home.