The queen of slow-burn romances is back at it again and better than ever. This time set in small-town Colorado with a silver-haired fox (direct quote), a 15-year-old music lover, a famous songwriter divorcee and hiking. What could possibly go wrong? Or better yet, let’s talk about all the things that went right. Mariana Zapata’s new book shows that the recipe for the perfect romance book shows signs that “All Rhodes Lead Here.” And given that indie authors tend to have surprise releases, maybe we should be more on the lookout for the spontaneous gems that come our way.
From “Kulti” to “Wait for It” to “Wall of Winnipeg and Me,” readers already know to expect that Mariana Zapata’s books will be contemporary romances at least 500 pages long with at least one character connected to another character from one of her other books. And “All Rhodes Lead Here” doesn’t disappoint. Spoiler alert, there’s a reference to the international soccer player Kulti in this book, but otherwise, there are no characters that cross over to her other novels. “All Rhodes Leads Here” is about recently divorced Aurora leaving her hometown to go back to a place she grew up in Colorado to escape her ex-husband and a past life she no longer fits into.
Aurora has no plans on where she’s going to settle down, for how long or even how she’s going to execute this not-so-carefully thought-of plan of hers, but when she ends up at a garage apartment she rented online, she’s hoping to start there. That is until she finds out that a 15-year-old minor rented the apartment to her behind his father’s back in order to get money for a guitar he wants to buy.
The father, Tobias Rhodes, is of course furious and Aurora and his son Amos do their best to convince him to let her stay. Rhodes relents and gives her a month before she has to find somewhere else to go but until then, she has to stay out of his and his son’s way. Aurora agrees because she has no plans to form connections and instead is looking forward to hiking the same trails her mother once did before she went missing some years ago during Aurora’s childhood.
It’s been a burden she’s always carried with her, and her mother’s mental health weighs on her brain as she thinks about how her mother could have died on a difficult trail despite being an expert hiker. It’s something she never took the time to emotionally unpack until arriving back in Colorado, which easily becomes her new home. So Aurora starts building up stamina and gathering materials to go on these hikes and along the way reconnects with an old friend, gets a job and tries to keep her head down.
For the most part, “All Rhodes Leads Here” reads as women’s fiction. For much of the beginning, we’re uncovering secrets about Aurora’s past: her marriage, her mother, her life before Colorado. We then follow Aurora as she tries to rediscover who she is now and redefine what her life will look like in this new place.
As much as I enjoyed these aspects of Aurora’s developing character and the growing relationships between Aurora and her friends, the romance aspect of the book takes more time to develop than normal. Rhodes is a game warden so he’s frequently gone for extended periods of time, so the time in the book where they could be building tension and a relationship — of any sort — is wasted; it takes a while for the characters to even start a budding relationship.
And by the time they do, it’s nearing so close to the end that things, unfortunately, move too quickly. It creates a weird juxtaposition since the beginning of the book is so slow. For one, Rhodes doesn’t like her and so any initial interactions between the pair are tense and awkward, so when they finally begin to cross the line into “friendship,” it’s hard to see when that line truly was crossed.
Jessen from Jessen Reads Romance on BookTube argues this as well when voicing some of her frustrations with “All Rhodes Lead Here,” but I will say that Zapata does make sure that the small moments we do get between her main characters are impactful. Meaningful conversations are had and her descriptions of body language are so in-depth that you have no choice but to truly see, understand and interpret who these characters are. However, given the amount of time it took for the characters to get together, the culmination of their relationship feels abrupt.
Despite this, “All Rhodes Lead Here” does well at highlighting aspects of mental health, trauma, grief and what it means to start over. By unpacking the feelings surrounding her mom’s missing case and exploring the connection she had to her in a place she used to call home, Aurora finds empowerment and healing. Zapata shows that trauma can have long-lasting effects and when given the time and space to resurface, grief and mourning can come in waves. But it’s all a part of the process of loving and losing someone.
One quote in “All Rhodes Lead Here” explains this well: “The people we lose take a part of us with them … but they leave a part of themselves with us too.” Aurora’s mother’s story does eventually come to a close but it ultimately functions to allow us to see how Aurora processes the tragedy. It is a touching novel, though slightly off track from Zapata’s romantic elements that truly make her the queen of slow burn. But with such a spontaneous release, I’m beginning to wonder if that marketing technique is truly the most effective when it comes to indie publishing.
Independently published books are taking the world by storm but the power that comes with in-house publishing puts indie authors in an interesting position. For the most part, they rely on their social media to get the word out, which is how Zapata’s fans knew she was releasing “All Rhodes Lead Here.” Typically, publishers can start marketing their books anywhere between three months to a year before to truly “build buzz.” But publishers have marketing teams, while indie authors typically have themselves, their agents and possibly additional people they’ve hired for marketing and publicity.
For Mariana Zapata, we found out a month before the release date — and that’s including cover and title. Any prior hints consisted of photos with stacks of drafts. And that’s perfectly fine. Christina C. Jones rarely has a release date and you can only guess at how many books she releases each year or when you can expect another. Despite any apparent problems, spontaneous releases seem to be very effective.
For some, the marketing campaign for a new book is exciting because you know what you’re waiting for. For example, fans were waiting for Sarah J. Maas’ fourth book in her “A Court of Thorns and Roses” series, “A Court of Silver Flames,” since 2018. And it wasn’t until this past year that she started giving snippets of scenes and quotes from her book to build up the hype. And since this is a fantasy series it perhaps gave people time to go back and reread all the other books in the series to prepare for this one.
But with indie authors, series books aside, spontaneous releases keep you more on edge because you don’t even know what to expect. Besides, when it hits peak book release season, so many authors are releasing books the novels can get lost on readers’ to-be-read list. Not everyone minds missing the initial hype of a book release but it’s also always fun to be a part of something like this in the book community. And indie authors thrive off of an interactive experience; it’s the reason why we keep coming back to them.
It’s an interesting argument to say books are less disappointing if you have fewer expectations going into them but for these reasons, indie authors’ reputations precede them and expectations can be just as high and books can fall just as hard. Either way, indie authors truly get to have the most fun when they market their work and readers are happy to follow along.