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Pretty much any romance involving a kinky bookseller is always going to get my vote. And if it’s by Charlotte Stein? Double vote! Can we vote twice? Whatever, I just did.
Taken, a recent offering by Stein, features Rosie Callahan, a young woman still in college, and Johann William Weir, a rare book dealer. In a prank-gone-wrong, Rosie is captured by the bookstore owner and chained up in his basement, a setup that sounds completely sinister and is actually totally comedic.
There’s a lovely counterpoint in this book between the devilish elements of dark romance and the vulnerability, insecurity and humor both hero and heroine display over the course of the book. Both of these characters are more capable and better wrapped than they think they are, especially when it comes to each other. It takes this absurd situation to allow them both to unlock desires they either didn’t know they had or weren’t comfortable indulging. Plus there’s an age gap here, which is my favorite thing in romance.
But the best part of Taken is just how slyly it references those 80s and 90s historicals that feature the kidnapping of the heroine by the hero. In those books, the heroine is often an innocent, but feisty young virgin and the hero an experienced, powerful Highlander or pirate or whatever. I loved the heck out of those books in high school and often find myself, to some degree, chasing that high when I dip into older historicals. But what worked for me at 17 isn’t the same as what works for me at 36. Now the consent issues in those books bother me, keeping me from being as fully immersed in the story and the romance as I’d wish.
Taken captures all of that dark, powerful older man magic, but gives him to a heroine who is equally experienced and comfortable with her sexuality, if not everything about her looks. And while she is in theory chained up against her will, it’s crystal clear from very early on in the story that she is way on board with every element of their quirky, unspoken and un-analyzed role-playing. It’s the hero who is ambivalent about the things he wants, needing the heroine’s push to indulge his darkest fantasies. It’s the first time I’ve experienced a modern writer evoking the same feel of those barbarian encounters, never mind in a contemporary, without turning the heroine into a push-over or the hero into an ass. And doing it in a way that didn’t conflict at all with my desire for the heroine’s enthusiastic consent.
So the bottom line is that I adored Taken. It’s a story with a new plot and an old feel, told in the inimitable style of one of contemporary romance’s most interesting writers. It’s even way more romantic than it had any right to be, what with the bubble baths and wine the and hacksaws and handcuffs. A thoroughly engaging, surprising and, of course, sexy read.
This recipe has absolutely nothing to do with the book. The couple do actually eat, um, something, I think? But when I discovered that hero was loosely based on the character Monroe from the television show Grimm (an homage more than a literal representation since Monroe is, like, a vegan werewolf and Johann…isn’t), I absolutely had to share my very favorite ever salmon recipe, one I’ve been making for years.
One of the very memorable early scenes involving the Grimm character has him insisting on getting the recipe for “honey-pepper cedar plank vegan salmon” from the main character’s girlfriend as a terribly ineffective diversionary tactic. It’s a very awkward scene and reminded me a lot of how Johann acts in Taken. And seriously, if you haven’t seen the show, he makes the whole thing.
Monroe, like Johann is such a delicious combination of competence, knowledge, experience and utter fumbling awkwardness that’s it’s impossible for me to completely separate the two. Knowing the inspiration for the character and Grimm being my one of my favorite television shows made this book all the more fun for me.
As for the recipe, it’s crazy easy. Just a simple pan-fried salmon and a honey-cayenne pepper sauce that goes well with pretty much any kind of fish, veggies and (my favorite) as a dipping sauce for sweet potato fries. So if you have any left over or just want to make salmon for two, you might consider making the full sauce amount. I keep in it in the fridge in a squeeze bottle and put it on everything.
Oh, and this is a pretty intensely spicy sauce so if you’re a person who likes things a little less hot, cut the cayenne pepper in half. You’ve been warned!
adapted from InterCourses: An Aphrodisiac Cookbook
Makes: 4 servings
4 6-ounce salmon filets
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tsp minced garlic (about 4 cloves)
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper (for a less spicy sauce, use 1 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 cup lemon juice
1. Salt and pepper the salmon filets. In a medium-sized skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat until shimmering and fragrant. Starting naked side up if your salmon filets have skin, cook salmon for about 5-6 minutes each side for 1-inch thick filets. If yours are thicker or thinner, they may require more or less time.
2. In a small saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and cook for about 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add honey, mustard, cayenne pepper and coriander, whisking to combine. Remove from heat and whisk in and lemon juice. When salmon is done, drizzle a tablespoon or two over each filet and serve.
Disclosure: Charlotte Stein and I follow each other on Twitter, though I bought Taken for myself.