Hotel of Secrets by Diana Biller

Star Rating:

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

Trigger Warning:

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

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.

First Line:

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:

Alias Emma (Alias Emma: Book 1) by Ava Glass

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group-Ballantine, Bantam

Date of publication: August 2nd, 2022

Genre: Thriller, Mystery, Fiction, Mystery Thriller, Spy Thriller, Espionage, Suspense, Adult, Contemporary, Spy Thriller

Series: Alias Emma

Alias Emma—Book 1

Purchase Links: Amazon | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | Alibris | Powells | IndieBound | Indigo | BetterWorldBooks

Goodreads Synopsis:

Emma Makepeace is about to spend the longest night in her life.

She’s on her first operation with a shadowy organisation known only as ‘The Agency’, assigned to track down and save an innocent man wanted by the Russian government.

All Emma has to do is bring him in to MI6 before sunrise, and before an assassination team gets to him first.

But the Russians have hacked the city’s CCTV cameras. There are spies all over London searching for the two of them. And her target, Michael Primalov, doesn’t want to be rescued.

As London sleeps, a battle is taking place on its streets as Emma fights to keep Michael alive.

But what sort of reception await them if and when they get to MI6?

First Line:

The sun was setting over one of the most expensive streets in the world when nthe assassins arrived.

Alias Emma by Ava Glass

I usually do not read books that are about spies or any espionage. It’s a genre I do not care for, and I typically go out of my way not to read anything from it. So, I was surprised (and a little irritated) when I read Alias Emma and realized it was a spy/espionage/thriller. That was on me, though. When the publisher sent me the invite to review, I automatically accepted without reading what I was getting. Imagine my surprise when I started liking Alias Emma. This book might be the one that has cracked my dislike for that genre. It was that good.

Alias Emma is the first book in the Alias Emma series. Anything else I would write in this section can be ignored (aka my warnings about reading books out of order in a series). That doesn’t apply here.

Alias Emma had a solid and engaging storyline. Emma is a secret agent working undercover at a shop run by a low-level threat when she gets a phone call she has been waiting for. She has been assigned to pick up a man, Dr. Michael Primalov, and bring him to the M16 before daylight. She must also keep him safe from Russian assassins and rogue agents from her agency. But that is easier said than done. The Russians have taken over London’s CCTV, her handler has gone missing, and she is receiving no help from her agency. With a cryptic message from her handler about staying in the dark, Emma must fulfill her mission. If she can’t, an innocent man will die. Can Emma do it? Can she bring Michael to the safety of the M16?

I loved Emma. She was stubborn (which served her well in this book), tough, and knew how to think outside the box. I loved seeing how she was recruited and her more tragic backstory. She was a very fleshed-out character. She did irritate me during some scenes but other than that, I liked her. I also loved how she saw something through to the end. And oh boy, did she with Michael.

The storyline with Emma, Michael, the Russians, and getting to the M16 was well written. The author did a great job of keeping my attention by constantly changing the storyline. Every time I thought something was going to happen, the storyline shifted. I did have my doubts about them getting to the M16. They were both up against so much.

The storyline with Emma, her agency, and the rogue agent kept me on the edge of my seat. I was alternately irritated for her and frightened for her. But everything did iron out in the end, but it was a ride to get there.

The spy/espionage angle of Alias Emma was very thought-provoking. I liked that the book featured a female spy who was relatable. I got a very James Bondy vibe during parts of the book, and I loved that Emma had to use her intuition to feel situations.

The action angle of Alias Emma was well written. I couldn’t get over the amount of running Emma and Michael did during this book. I also couldn’t get over the number of hand-to-hand combat situations that Emma had with the Russians. Again, it was another thing that kept my attention on the book.

The end of Alias Emma was interesting. I say interesting because I was fascinated with how the Russian storyline ended. The images I produced in my head after the Russian team passed the British one at the hotel in Paris were not good. I also liked how the author left open the storyline about specific agents going rogue. There was an explanation, but the way it was left made me wonder if book two would explain more.

I would recommend Alias Emma to anyone over 16. There are a few kissing scenes (mainly to conceal identities), language, and moderate to high violence.

If you enjoyed reading Alias Emma, you will enjoy these books:

The Last Pilgrim (Tommy Bergmann: Book 1) by Gard Sveen

The Last Pilgrim (Tommy Bergmann Book 1) by [Sveen, Gard]

Publisher: AmazonCrossing

Date of publication: August 23rd, 2016

Genre: Mystery, Crime, Thriller, Fiction, Historical, Historical Fiction, War, European Literature, Scandinavian Literature, Spy Thriller, Espionage, Adult Fiction

Series: Tommy Bergmann

The Last Pilgrim – Book 1

Hell Is Open—Book 2

Blod i dans—Book 3

Bjornen—Book 4

Drommenes gud—Book 5

Purchase Links: Amazon | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | Alibris | IndieBound | Indigo | BetterWorldBooks

Goodreads Synopsis:

Young, lovely Norwegian Agnes Gerner is waging a dangerous and secret fight. Outwardly, she is a devoted Nazi sympathizer engaged to a prominent businessman. In fact, she is part of an underground resistance doing everything to win the war against the Germans. The only hope she has of being reunited with the man she truly loves—who serves under the code name “Pilgrim”—is if the Nazis are defeated. Of course, there’s no guarantee that she’ll be alive when that happens…

Many years later, three sets of remains are found in a popular Oslo forest—two adults and a child. Despite his boss’s call to not spend extra time on the old case, Detective Tommy Bergmann cannot help but dig deeper, especially as he uncovers connections to a more recent murder. As he unravels the secrets of the past, it becomes clear that everything is permissible in war—and that only those who reject love can come out victorious.

My review:

I wouldn’t say I liked this book when I first started reading it. I had a lot of problems keeping my attention focused on it. Once I got past the first few chapters, I started to like the book.

I didn’t expect that I would like Tommy Bergmann by the end of the book. In the beginning, I detested him. He admitted that he beat his girlfriend over their 12-year relationship. He did have an awesome work ethic, and his remorse for his past behavior came across the pages. Even though he is a fictional character, I wanted to slip him a card to a psychologist. When he had a chance with another woman, he called it off because of his issues with his ex-girlfriend.

Agnes annoyed the ever-living out of me. I can’t put a finger on it, but I read her chapters with a bad taste in my mouth. I did find it fascinating how female spies were regarded during World War 2. Agnes proved them wrong. Her scenes with The Pilgrim also didn’t ring true to me. I figured out that he wanted a piece of ass and a place to crash, and she fell in love with him.

I liked the dual storylines. The author kept them apart and devoted entire chapters to Tommy and Agnes. I got confused was the beginning of the book when Kaj and the detective were killed. I got confused in the 2003 chapters when Tommy came to the crime scene. And then when he was called the woods when they found the bones.

The author did a great job keeping the killers under wraps until the end. He took me on a multi-country jaunt to find out how those two cases were connected. I did figure out the 1942 storyline about halfway through the book. But the 2003 storyline (and how they connected) did take me by surprise, and I was a little shocked by the ending.

I would recommend The Last Pilgrim to anyone over 21. There is sex and lots of violence.

If you liked The Last Pilgrim, you will enjoy these books:

A License to Wed (Rebellious Brides: Book 2) by Diana Quincy

A License to Wed: Rebellious Brides by [Quincy, Diana]

Publisher: Loveswept

Date of publication: July 5th, 2016

Genre: Romance, Historical Romance, Historical, Adult, Regency Romance, Regency, Spy Thriller, Espionage

Series: Rebellious Brides

Spy Fall—Book 1

A License to Wed—Book 2

From London with Love—Book 3 (review here)

The Duke Who Ravished Me—Book 4 (review here)

Purchase Links: Amazon | B&N | Indigo | Kobo | Apple Books

Goodreads Synopsis:

Perfect for readers of Madeline Hunter, Lisa Kleypas, and Sabrina Jeffries, the Rebellious Brides series continues with a sizzling tale of forbidden love between a socialite and a scholar—who might just be an infamous spy.

Lady Elinor Dunsmore made the mistake of falling for her older brother’s best friend, who vanished after a night of unbridled passion. Six years and a lifetime later, their eyes meet across a Paris salon. Her friends and family believe she’s dead, but Elle is very much alive. She’s now associated with a ruthless general, who wants her to seduce the man who broke her heart in order to learn his deepest secrets. Is Will a mild-mannered scholar—or the notorious agent they call The Razor?

The bastard son of an earl and an actress, Will Naismith always knew he was an unsuitable match for Elle Dunsmore, no matter how powerfully he ached for her. And yet he almost allowed his desires to spoil her glittering future. After the agony caused by Elle’s supposed death, Will has devoted himself to the Crown, but his entire life has been leading up to this unexpected reunion. As much as he still wants her, though, he must not succumb to lust once again. For his mission is delicate—and Elle is delectably dangerous.

I liked this book, even if it was a little “eh” for me. When I say “eh,” it isn’t bad, but some scenes made me roll my eyes. One of those scenes was with Elle’s maid, Sophie. She was a little too uppity for a maid (which makes me think there is a story in itself) for the era. And for some reason, it drove me crazy.

The story between Elle and Will was great. The sexual tension came across my Kindle and was built up. It was intense when they finally did the deed (I will NEVER look at hip tubs the same way again). So intense that I needed to put down my Kindle and fan myself a few times.

The storyline was pretty good too. Taking place in the early 1800’s French society, it described French society to a “T.” From the dress styles to the language to the laws about “bastard children,” it made for a fantastic read.

I couldn’t stand Elle. She rubbed me the wrong way and was too compliant with General Durant. She fought Will every single step of the way and refused to listen to him. There were some scenes where I wanted to reach through the pages and smack her.

3 Things I liked about A License to Wed:

  1. Will’s character
  2. Susanna
  3. the sexual tension

3 Things I disliked about A License to Wed:

  1. Elle (couldn’t stand her!!!)
  2. Will’s father
  3. General Gerard Durant

I would recommend A License to Wed to anyone over 21. There is minor violence, minor language, and graphic sex.

If you enjoyed reading A License to Wed, you will enjoy reading these books: