...and I find myself embarrassed recommending it, particularly to men. Can we talk about that for a moment?
Maybe 2013 just wasn't a great book year for me, but by far the most fun I had reading was Meljean Brooks' Riveted and Heart of Steel. They're not likely to go down as my all-time favorite classics, exactly, but they're perfect steampunk adventure: great worldbuilding, perfect pacing, plot that a nice mix of seriousness and glorious pulp, characters that are interesting and complex without being pretentious. I would completely recommend these any time someone is looking for that elusive "lighter read".
And they are also totally romance novels. Not actually-not-romance-novels that have accidentally been shelved wrong or anything, definitely romance novels. The romance is integral to the characters and to exploring the themes of the story, the happy ending is a given, there are fairly frequent, detailed sex scenes, etc. On the other hand (or maybe on the same hand) there are none of the irritating, sexist alpha-male cliches or milquetoast heroines or love-at-first-sight with bells and whistles on.
So, here's a good genre novel that is also a good romance novel, the same way there are good SFF caper novels and good SFF humor mystery novels and good SFF political novels, and I don't know why I feel faintly embarrassed to have liked it. Old-fashioned stereotypes about romance novels? My latent sexism? Am I completely wrong in assuming that this is a suggestion that would be ignored if not ridiculed in a discussion of 'proper' SFF lit?
How about it, non-romance readers - would you consider these? It's not like most art doesn't have some romance, in some form, including books/shows aimed at men or assumed to be unisex - do you just ignore that, or is the way romance is done in non-genre-Romance assumed to be different?
So, yeah, you guys should all read these it if you like SFF adventure stuff.
Edit: I just want to sharpen the question a little, with a cover like this one.
I think that's one of the interesting questions here, what is and what isn't considered capital-R-Romance and why. I've honestly not particularly enjoyed most of the Romance I've read here and there - I'm not invested in the relationship and it's too much of the story, it plays out as skeevy and sexist, the plotting is contrived, etc. Brook's books didn't have those flaws, but they were still definitely romance novels, at least to my eye - they're structured around the romance and the characters are tied up in the romance totally.
There was more going on that was great, but I wasn't reading this despite the romance - I was actually interested in the romance, not just invested in a shippy 'I want them to be together way,' but it was actually interesting and complex and raised thematic, SFFnal questions and explored the characters and so on.
So what's going on here? Why do not more romance novels do this, (rec them if you know them!) and why is this not a facet of the human experience SFF is more open to exploring, or at least not open to exploring when it's got a big "romance" tag on it?
Heaven knows there's plenty of 'respectable' SFF that is squarely about sex and love written by men, and some of it is as appallingly stupid as the most hackneyed, trashy, Mills&Boon, but no one is going to say, yeah, I'm just not interested in reading To Sail Beyond the Sunset or Surface Detail , as they're rather prominently about a woman's sex life.