Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, St. Martin’s Griffin
Date of publication: March 28th, 2023
Genre: Romance, Historical Fiction, Historical Romance, Historical, Fiction, Adult, Mystery, Espionage, Mystery Thriller, Adult Fiction
During ball season, anything can happen, even love.
It’s ball season in Vienna, and Maria Wallner only wants one thing: to restore her family’s hotel, the Hotel Wallner, to its former glory. She’s not going to let anything get in her way – not her parents’ three-decade-long affair; not seemingly-random attacks by masked assassins; and especially not the broad-shouldered American foreign agent who’s saved her life two times already. No matter how luscious his mouth is.
Eli Whittaker also only wants one thing: to find out who is selling American secret codes across Europe, arrest them, and go home to his sensible life in Washington, DC. He has one lead – a letter the culprit sent from a Viennese hotel. But when he arrives in Vienna, he is immediately swept up into a chaotic whirlwind of balls, spies, waltzes, and beautiful hotelkeepers who seem to constantly find themselves in danger. He disapproves of all of it! But his disapproval is tested as he slowly falls deeper into the chaos – and as his attraction to said hotelkeeper grows.
There were twenty-eight mintues left in 1877, and as if the year had not seen enough trouble, Maria Wallner’s father led Maria Wallner’s mother onto the dance floor, clasped her amorously to his chest, and, with the first langud, delicate notes of Strauss’s Vienna Blood Waltz providing a suitbale romantic background, began to dance.Hotel of Secrets by Diana Biller
Maria Wallner has been working towards restoring her family’s hotel, the Hotel Wallner, to its former glory. So, when an offer to host Vienna’s giant ball of the ball season is extended to her, she jumps on it. Nothing is going to stand in her way. Not her parent’s thirty-year affair, her hotel needs expensive repairs, or the American spy who has saved her life twice. Eli Whittaker has been sent to Vienna to find out who is selling American secret codes, arrest them, and return to Washington, D.C. His one clue is the hotel that Maria is trying to bring back. What Eli wasn’t expecting was his sudden attraction to Maria. He wasn’t expecting to be swept up into intrigue that could reach as far as the Royal Family. When Maria is attacked twice, Eli makes it his job to investigate. Can Eli find out who is behind Maria’s attacks? Can he also find out who is selling America’s secrets? Can Maria bring her hotel back to its former glory? And will Eli and Maria both leave the 1878 Vienna ball season with their hearts intact?
I didn’t know what I was getting into when I started reading this book. I thought I was going to read a romance about a spy. That was it (the blurb didn’t give anything away). I was aware that this book was set in Vienna (and I will discuss that later) and that I was mindful of the period. I wasn’t expecting the hijinks in Hotel of Secrets or that the people in Vienna seemed a little progressive for that era. Those quibbles aside, I enjoyed reading this book and the giggles it gave me.
Let me get the basics out of the way before I start going off on tangents. Hotel of Secrets is a fast-paced, 3rd person, dual POVs book (what a freaking mouthful there). I enjoyed reading the book from Eli and Maria’s perspectives. Some things didn’t make sense when seen from one that made sense when seen from the other. The fast pace suited Hotel of Secrets ideally, and the author did know when to slow down so everything could sink in. Plus, I loved the diary enteries from Maria’s great-grandmother, grandmother, mother, and Maria herself at the beginning of each chapter.
So, now that is over, let’s jump into the review!!!
I loved that this book was set in Vienna during their ball season. Vienna is on my bucket list of places to go, and I loved seeing it described so beautifully in the book. I liked that the author gave a behind-the-scenes look into hotel renovations in 1878 (nothing like today) and how much preparation went into hosting a ball. I didn’t know that there were themes to balls. Honestly, I just thought people dressed up fancy, danced, and drank a lot of champagne. It shows how much I know.
I liked Maria. I liked how open she was with Eli about things and how in touch with herself she was. I also liked how she wanted to buck the “dark-haired man” fate and do things her way. She didn’t have time for that. She had a hotel to renovate and an essential ball to hold. Her impatience (and later disdain) for her mother and father’s affair was amusing and sad. I loved how she interacted with Eli. Her sassiness and not wanting him around amused me, as did her sexual overtures once she decided she wanted him.
Eli was not what I expected in a main character. He had a past that was tragic and shaped him into who he is in the book. But the more important thing is that he was a virgin. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around that when it was revealed. It was something that I rarely had (maybe never) read in a romance novel. The male main character was a virgin!! I also liked that he wasn’t as sneaky as a spy as he thought. Everyone, including Maria, had him pegged from day one, and his surprise when she told him was priceless.
The main storyline was an interesting one. It focused on Eli, Maria, the hotel, the diaries that Maria’s family kept (and they feature heavily towards the end of the book), Maria’s family, and Eli’s reason for being in Vienna. It was a twisty plotline that could potentially lose the reader, but it didn’t. The author did a great job of keeping everything on point and the attention where it needed to be. Of course, there are two considerable twists in that plotline. One that I guessed at, and the other took me by surprise.
Let’s talk about romance, mainly Eli and Maria’s. I wouldn’t quite call it Instalove. Instead, I would say that they were both sexually attracted to each other, and it evolved into love. Maria did fight her feelings for Eli for about half of the book. In the book’s second half, she realizes that Eli is hers. As for Eli, it was the same way.
There is a lot of sex, sexual hijinks, and sexual encounters in Hotel of Secrets. I was a little surprised because of the era (1878). But this wasn’t England, and I figured the Austrian society was a little more lenient with that stuff. I loved that Maria knew what she wanted and how she wanted it. Her hijinks with Eli (before deflowering him) were sensual and amusing. Take the linen closets. Maria made it known early on that she wanted to be taken in one and was contemplating adding amenities (those linen closets in that hotel got a workout). Eli was more than happy to indulge her once they were at that point in their relationship. I also loved (and thought it was hilarious) that Eli went and bought a pornographic book to study before they did the deed. I was dying, and when he started citing references, I couldn’t stop laughing.
I loved the end of Hotel of Secrets. Talk about ending the book with a bang!! The author revealed a couple of twists. I figured one out, but the other one took me by surprise. I also couldn’t have been more disgusted with Maria’s father. What he did was unforgivable. I wondered where Eli and Maria’s relationship would go since Eli technically did what he was sent to Austria to do. I am hoping that there is another book set in this universe that answers that question.
I would recommend Hotel of Secrets to anyone over 21. There is violence, mild language, and sexual situations.
Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press, St. Martin’s Griffin, NetGalley, and Diana Biller for allowing me to read and review Hotel of Secrets. All opinions stated in this review are mine.
If you enjoyed reading this review of Hotel of Secrets, then you will enjoy reading these books:
Other books by Diana Biller: