I know. It’s a weird and bold statement to make. And it might remind some people of all those ridiculous post-Fifty Shades of Grey debates about the unhealthiness of women getting off on violence. (Knock that shit off. Liking kink does not mean we want people to abuse us, folks.) But work with me here. I’m going to try to articulate why Frank Castle, the long-running Marvel Comics vigilante, is — in the capable hands of showrunner Steve Lightfoot and portrayer Jon Bernthal — the hero of a romance. It has nothing do with his capacity to hurt other people. It has everything to do with the hurt he carries within.
Let’s get the shallow part out of the way first: Jon Bernthal is ridiculously attractive. Not in that conventional Hollywood pretty-boy sense, but in a much more earthy and primal way. To paraphrase my friend Charlotte Stein, it’s like all of his features got in a fight and he came out the winner. I don’t want this devolve into X-rated musings on his nose and his ears, so let’s just say that the man radiates charisma and, in the guise of the Punisher, it’s ratcheted up to an alarming degree. The harshness of his face, the angles and curves of his body…the camera lingers on all of it lovingly and obsessively. He’s a brutally beautiful man. And his voice…? Good lord. They could bottle that rasp and sell it as an exfoliant at Sephora for $50 an ounce.
There are more dragons than there are black people in the core cast of HBO’s Game of Thrones — a show on which at least six people die before breakfast every day. So, you might understand why I’m petrified that the achingly beautiful Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) and Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) will bite the dust sometime between the current season 7 and the final season 8. If they do…? I say we riot!
On a show that prides itself on over-the-top violence, over-the-top sex, and over-the-top sexual violence, the gentle, quiet, love story of Daenerys Targaryen’s two trusted companions has been a welcome balm. Grey Worm, forcibly castrated and enslaved as a young boy, now serves as the commander of Dany’s army. Missandei, also a survivor of enslavement, is Dany’s translator and general bestie (as much as someone can be pals with the Mother of Dragons). And, frankly, most of the time I like them better than anybody in that particular story arc.
The seventh — and penultimate — season of Game of Thrones premieres July 16, and I’m telling you right now that the most important seats at this show’s table belong to Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen. Actually, scratch the plural on those seats. It’s one big ol’ chair with Jon in Dany’s lap (or the other way around, if you prefer). Because everything in this series has been leading up to the inevitable team-up of these two characters — both on the throne and in a bed!
I know what you’re thinking: “But he’s her nephew!” Dude, Dany breastfed three dragons. I’m not all that concerned about whether her hooking up with a relative she’s never met is inappropriate. See also: Jaime and Cersei Lannister. Jon turning out to be a lost Targaryen (child of Dany’s brother Rhaegar and Ned Stark’s sister Lyanna) is nowhere near as creepy as the incestuous bone-town that is King’s Landing.
Book boyfriends are great and all, but it’s galpals who’ll help you kill three bottles of wine and then bury some bodies! So move over, Valentine’s Day: Let’s pull a Leslie Knope and talk Galentine’s Day, celebrating some of fiction’s fun female friendships!
Too often in romance ― and, really, fiction in general ― we see the “not like other girls” trope, where the heroine is a special sparkly unicorn, full of virtue and made of sugar cookie batter, and all other women are sluts and bitches. Frankly, that’s sexist, regressive, awful and not all that entertaining. That’s why, as a reader, I find myself drawn to series where women have each other’s backs no matter what. Take Lisa Kleypas’ Wallflower series. It’s probably the first time, at least in historical romance, that I can recall encountering a group of women who stuck together. Before that, I kept stumbling upon these poor loner heroines who’d end up running around a dreary estate with an alpha hero and his nefarious staff and relatives ― and nary a friend to go, “Oh, girl, no. GTFO!” That’s not the case with Annabelle, Lillian, Evie and Daisy. Sure, they’re drawn together by their common goal of getting off the wall and landing a husband, but from Secrets of a Summer Night all the way to Scandal in Spring, you know that they’d cut someone for messing with one of them! And I mean literally. Not a cut direct.
TNT’s dark and filthy drama Good Behavior ― aka “Lady Mary’s Come Undone” ― wrapped its high-tension 10-episode run with the same heart, black humor and shenanigans that made its pilot so compelling.
Michelle Dockery’s explosive breakaway from the staid walls of Downton Abbey, as an alcoholic con artist with more wigs than Sydney Bristow, proved worth the binge ― and the hangover! Recently released jailbird Letty Raines, who gets off on stealing, loves to get high, and just wants her biracial son, Jacob, to love her is no scheming noble. She’s painfully honest, unable to be anything but herself, and when she meets a hit man who’s accustomed to wearing dozens of different identities ― played by Argentine hunk-and-a-half Juan Diego Botto ― it’s the catalyst for adventure, growth…and more than a few missteps. All of which make for riveting TV.
Skye Warren, Annika Martin, Molly O’Keefe…TNT?! It sounds strange to put a cable network on a list of effective, engaging, go-to dark romance authors, but here you have it — because TNT’s Good Behavior, based on novellas by Blake Crouch, absolutely fits the bill! Letty Raines (Michelle Dockery) is a con artist, meth addict and alcoholic who lost custody of her son. Javier (Juan Diego Botto) is a controlling, meticulous hit man with a face like an angel’s. And they can’t live without each other. From the less-than-rosy protagonists to the shades of dominance and submission, Good Behavior is a good bet for anyone who likes hard-luck plots and hotter-than-hot pairings.
In the first episode alone, it’s clear that wild-child Letty needs rules — that she is completely incapable of impulse control. She can’t hold down a steady job, she’s an expert at the five-finger discount…and she winds up hearing a contract killer, Javier, setting up a hit and can’t resist getting involved. Long story short, Letty’s good intentions don’t quite translate into sensible actions — and that’s something that carries through the series and cements why Javier becomes such an important figure in her life and her heart. Because he cannot, and will not, let her spiral out.
It’s amazing how much of 2016 is a blur. I barely remember the beginning of it — what I watched, what I read. I’ve done a lot of “Wait, that happened THIS year?” as I look back on what media made an impact on me.
Winona Ryder made a jaw-dropping comeback in Netflix’s Stranger Things, and I was blown away by Millie Bobbie Brown as Eleven, but the show overall didn’t rank as one of my year-end faves. I binge-watched the first season of The CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend but bailed on season two. I also gave up on Jane the Virgin season three — and I dumped several of last year’s faves: Quantico, UnREAL and The 100!
Perhaps the most blasphemous development of all: I totally forgot The X-Files came back this year! The revival was so underwhelming and half-assed, with Gillian Anderson the only bright spot, that all my years of fannish nostalgia couldn’t save it.
Here’s a look back at my 2016!
Marked in Flesh by Anne Bishop
A Change of Heart by Sonali Dev
Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins
The Edge of the Blade by Jeffe Kennedy
Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn
Hold Me by Courtney Milan
The Bourbon Thief by Tiffany Reisz
Beyond Surrender by Kit Rocha
The Young Blood by Erin Satie
The Get Down (Netflix)
Jessica Jones (Netflix)
Luke Cage (Netflix)
Queen Sugar (OWN)
Good Behavior (TNT)
Captain America: Civil War
Favorite Guilty Pleasures
The Exorcist (FOX)
Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party (VH1)
Peanut butter Clif bars
MVA (Most Valuable Author): Molly O’Keefe. I honestly couldn’t pick my favorite O’Keefe book of the year. She had so much great stuff come out, and I glommed it ALL. And she even got a cover shout-out in Suicide Squad!
Best TV Comeback: Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The introduction of Gabriel Luna’s Ghost Rider revitalized the show after a meh third season.