Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Cordell Logan Thrillers by David Freed

The Cordell Logan Series
by David Freed

1. Flat Spin • 2. Fangs Out
3. Voodoo Ridge • 4. Three-Line Nine

Flat Spin
Flat Spin (Cordell Logan #1)
My rating:         Mystery / Thriller
Source: Publisher (direct)

Logan was a government assassin. Now he's retired, divorced, and struggling to make ends meet as a freelance flying instructor. When his ex-wife turns up, recently widowed, and asks him to tell the police what kind of work he and her late husband used to do together, he won't even admit that they were ever involved with clandestine operations.

Logan is far from being a stereotypical hero, but he's likeable and sympathetic, and above all realistic. He has a sharp tongue (which doesn't make him many friends), vague aspirations towards Buddhism, and an antisocial cat - but he's also got a fiercely determined streak which comes out when he realises that, whether due to conspiracy or incompetence, the police simply aren't going to catch whoever killed Arlo.

Flat Spin is an intriguing mystery, with plenty of action as Logan tries to figure out what's going on by more or less direct methods of interrogation - trying all the while to avoid explaining himself to his ex-wife. From flight scenes to fight scenes, everything is described with vivid detail and colourful metaphor. There's plenty of suspense in these pages, but also no shortage of humour to lighten the mood, making for a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Fangs Out
Fangs Out (Cordell Logan #2)
My rating:         Mystery / Thriller
Source: Publisher (direct)

I've been looking forwards to David Freed's follow-up to the wonderful Flat Spin ever since I heard that there was going to be one. And this is a worthy sequel, which I suspect would read equally well as a stand-alone thriller.

The main character (I hesitate to call him a hero), Logan, is as grumpy as ever. Armed with backchat that's less rapier wit and more unwieldy bludgeon, he somehow still manages to be charming despite his talent for offending. His clumsy attempts to reconcile with ex-wife Savannah made me flip regularly between wanting to give him a reassuring hug, and wanting to slap him across the face for her. On the other hand, he shows real, unconditional affection towards his antisocial cat and his elderly landlady, proving that the hard man really does have a heart.

Strapped for cash, Logan reluctantly takes on what should be a simple PI-style job to supplement his almost-nonexistent flight instructor's income. Investigating the circumstances around the death of a fellow pilot's daughter, he's only supposed to find some press-friendly tidbits to confirm the verdict the courts have already established. It's a short flight to San Diego, and Logan is invited to stay rent-free with the victim's father, so he sets out with high hopes of easy money. But from the start, things just don't add up, and it will take all of Logan's skill to get him out of San Diego alive.

Freed's writing sucks you right in to the action, and is informed by obviously thorough knowledge of everything from the technical details of flight to the grim depths of human psychology.

Voodoo Ridge
Voodoo Ridge (Cordell Logan #3)
My rating:         Mystery / Thriller
Source: Publisher (direct)

Freed returns with a third instalment of the excellent Cordell Logan series, and I think it's fair to say this is the grimmest, most heart-wrenching novel in the series so far. (In fact, I'd go so far as to say it would be hard to outdo in future volumes.)

It's also really hard to review without spoilers, so this will of necessity be brief.

Flying up to Lake Tahoe to remarry his ex-wife, Logan spots what looks like aircraft debris in the mountains. As any concerned citizen would, he reports it to the authorities, and finds himself drawn in to assisting the police and the local rescue team with their search. He apologises profusely to Savannah, but what's a day or two's delay to their wedding, if lives might be at stake? Although he couldn't have predicted it this is, without a doubt, the worst decision he's ever made.

Logan has always struggled to reconcile his violent past with his Buddhist aspirations, and circumstances always seem to force him into situations where further violence is the only way out. Even though his heart is in the right place, this could easily make him unsympathetic, but I challenge anyone to read this book with dry eyes.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Blueberry & Almond Tassies (Secret Recipe Club)

Blueberry & almond tassies

My assignment this month for Secret Recipe Club was to make something from bcmom's kitchen. Anna has loads of delicious recipes, but her desserts are particularly mouth-watering.

This recipe for cranberry pecan tassies caught my eye, not least because I'd never heard of a tassie. (Or should that be tassy? I'm on shaky linguistic ground, here, although Google suggests there's a Scottish word 'tassie' meaning a cup, which could be the origin.) Anyway, one of my favourite SRC hobbies is to make something I've never before eaten, let alone baked, so the novelty appealed to me.

I was also intrigued by the method of making pastry with cream cheese, and the combination of textures and flavours sounded like a guaranteed winner.

It's not really cranberry season, but I did have a box of blueberries in the freezer. And since I was making that switch, I decided that almonds would be a better fit than pecans. But I'd definitely like to go back and try the original recipe once I can get my hands on some cranberries.

The result was fantastic. The filling is surprisingly moist, under a crispy top. The cream cheese pastry is slightly softer than my usual shortcrust, and flakier, and (when it's not being overwhelmed by the sweet berries) you can still detect the sharpness of the cheese. We had these for Easter tea and they were a perfect complement to the usual excess of chocolate.

Blueberry & Almond Tassies
Makes 12

For the dough:
110g (4oz) plain cream cheese
55g (¼cup) butter
165g (1 cup) plain flour

For the filling:
110g (¾cup) frozen blueberries
120g (⅔cup) almonds
1 egg
125g (¾cup) soft brown sugar
1tbsp melted butter
1tsp vanilla bean paste

  1. Cream together the butter and cream cheese, and fold in the flour to make a stiff dough.
  2. Refrigerate the dough for at least an hour.
  3. Once the dough is chilled, preheat the oven to 160°C (325°F).
  4. Roughly chop the blueberries and almonds, and combine.
  5. In a clean bowl, beat together the egg, sugar, melted butter, and vanilla. Whisk until creamy.
  6. Divide the dough into 12 even portions, and roll each piece into a small circle.
  7. Grease a 12-hole bun tin (such as you'd use for fairy cakes) and line with pastry circles.
  8. Divide the berries and nuts evenly between the pie cases.
  9. Spoon the egg and sugar mix over the top, about 1tbsp per tassie.
  10. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Jenny Oliver Romance Novels

The Parisian Christmas Bake Off
The Parisian Christmas Bake Off
My rating:         Romance
Source: Publisher (via Netgalley)

What's not to love about a tale of Christmassy baking?

In The Parisian Christmas Bake Off, young teacher Rachel is set up by friends who send her to Paris during the Christmas break to compete for a patisserie apprenticeship. Rachel has had trouble enjoying the Christmas season since her mum died, and she's initially furious that her friends have arranged things behind her back. But as she's unwittingly drawn into the competition, she starts to discover not only some long-lost self-confidence, but also an enjoyment of the festive spirit.

Having a handsome Frenchman on the scene certainly doesn't hurt - but while this is shelved as a romance, the romantic aspect is really only an accent to Rachel's baking journey. It adds to the story, but doesn't define it.

With its sprinkling of sadness and hope, this is a perfect and charming Christmas story which I read in one day - I just didn't want to put it down.

Looking for more Christmas reads? I'm keeping a list (and checking it twice) of all the seasonal books that I've reviewed.

The Vintage Summer Wedding
The Vintage Summer Wedding
My rating:         Romance
Source: Publisher (via Netgalley)

Anna was in the middle of planning her perfect wedding when her life crashed down around her ears. Forced into dire financial straits, she and her fiancé move to a crumbling cottage in the hometown she left as a child. Under the pressure of a temp job she hates and a town she thought she'd left behind, Anna starts to crack, and her picture-perfect relationship with Seb starts to show the strain.

Anna is an absolute brat and I didn't warm to her at once, but as the story progressed it became clear that her character was a result of her childhood circumstances, and I started to understand her better. I'm hesitant to say too much to avoid spoilers, but suffice it to say that as the story progresses, Anna eventually starts to shake off her past and grow up; this book had me in tears by the end.

The Vintage Summer Wedding
The Little Christmas Kitchen
My rating:         Romance
Source: Publisher (via Netgalley)

Maddy and Ella are both living in the shadow of their childhood decisions, their lives fractured by their parents' divorce. Maddy has grown up with their mum, in Greece, while the older Ella went with their dad to a life of English boarding schools and trying to impress everyone with her academic achievements.

I found this book a bit slow to start off, but once it got properly underway, it was lovely. The reconciliation of the girls, their parents, and forgiveness of their respective mistakes is thoroughly heart-warming and made me sob buckets.

The Grand Reopening of Dandelion Cafe
The Grand Reopening of Dandelion Cafe
My rating:         Romance
Source: Publisher (via Netgalley)

Annie returns to Cherry Pie Island with the idea that she might sell the cafe where she spent so much of her childhood, and which she's just inherited. When she gets there, however, she finds the cafe could do with a new manager, not just an absentee owner. Annie gets everyone behind a low-budget makeover for the struggling cafe, but by the time the doors are ready to reopen, she's no longer sure she wants to leave. Just lovely.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Garlic Mushroom Carbonara

Garlic Mushroom Carbonara

My first attempt at making carbonara was as a boat-dwelling teenager; it didn't go well, and I ended up with pasta and some kind of gloopy scrambled-egg sauce that tasted vile. This time around (and I've made this twice, now) it was much better.

Finding something to replace the meat, as a vegetarian, is always a fun challenge. I had a mushroom carbonara on a recent trip to the Isle of Wight, and decided to try and replicate that. I've now tried with a mixture of different mushrooms: chestnut mushrooms are a perennial favourite of mine, and shitake are also good.

I'm submitting this recipe to Pasta Please, organised by Jac at Tinned Tomatoes and hosted this month by Helen at Family Friends Food who has picked a springtime theme.

I don't know about you, but I love the fresh peas at this time of year, and I always think of light and creamy sauces around this season.

Garlic Mushroom Carbonara

Garlic Mushroom Carbonara
Serves 2

100ml double cream
1 egg
200g linguine
200g mixed mushrooms
2 cloves garlic
1 cup peas (fresh or frozen)
parmesan (or similar hard cheese), to taste
black pepper, to taste

  1. Whisk together the egg and cream.
  2. Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions, adding the peas a minute before the end.
  3. Meanwhile, fry the mushrooms with the garlic in a little oil or butter, until soft. Drain off any excess liquid.
  4. Drain the pasta, reserving a little of the starchy water.
  5. Add the pasta to the mushrooms, and immediately stir through the egg and cream mixture. The residual heat from the pasta will cook the egg, so you shouldn't need to return the pan to the heat.
  6. Season with parmesan and black pepper, amounts according to personal preference.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Mexican-Inspired Savoury Cookies

Mexican-inspired cookies

I've been on a major kitchen clean-up this year, trying to get my fridge, freezer, and pantry under control. One consequence of this is that I'm attempting to use up all the odds and ends. You know how it is: you buy a packet of something when you really need just a pinch or two, and then it languishes. I fear it may take me more than a year to run down all my stockpiles, but I'm doing my best.

This recipe comes to you courtesy of a half-empty jar of jalapeños that had been hanging around in the fridge for quite a while, and a tin of refried beans that I wasn't sure what to do with. I love Mexican flavours, and experimenting is always fun, so I decided to pick a few of my favourite ingredients and turn them into a cookie.

They're not the prettiest, but they tasted more than good enough to make up for that.

Mexican-inspired cookies

I found that these lasted slightly less well than the cheese cookies I usually make, which I can only assume is down to the beans. But they're really tasty, so I still recommend this recipe - you'll just have to eat them within a couple of days, or pop them in the freezer.

Mexican-Inspired Savoury Cookies
Makes about 20 cookies

2 cups plain flour
1tsp baking powder
2 eggs
250g butter (US: 2 sticks)
1 cup mashed potato
1 cup refried beans
1 cup cheese
¼ cup jalapeños (plus extra slices to decorate)
½ cup red pepper
½ cup red onion
½ cup sweetcorn

  1. Preheat oven to 160° C.
  2. Mix baking powder into flour.
  3. Melt the butter (1 minute in the microwave) and break up the eggs.
  4. Add the egg and melted butter to the flour. Mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon or spatula until no patches of raw flour remain.
  5. Knead the mashed potato and refried beans into the dough.
  6. Mix in the jalapeños, pepper, onion, and sweetcorn.
  7. Form into balls and press down onto a lined baking sheet. (The dough will be quite sticky, so you may want to use a spoon to help with this stage.)
  8. Optionally, press an extra jalapeño slice into the top of the cookie.
  9. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown and beginning to crisp.
  10. Cool on a wire rack before serving. Store in the fridge, or freeze them if you think you'll struggle to get through the batch.

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