Review: Diana Biller’s HOTEL OF SECRETS

Hotel_of_SecretsReading Diana Biller’s Hotel of Secrets I thought of the importance of momentum in reading pleasure. More likely I yearned for it. And it was not to be had. The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of anything but reading: work, Holy Week services, Pascha, and day-to-day stuff, leaks and stumbles, an unforeseen pharmacy trip, cooking and cleaning and so much laundry. Nothing crisis-ridden, but add a need for sleep and the e-reader, propped up to make for maximum lying-in, would watch me snort, snooze, and drool through the night…a mere two-or-three pages from where it had been turned on. All this to say, while I was enjoying Biller’s Hotel of Secrets, I didn’t get to enjoy it because my reading momentum was shot. Only devoted readers get this. Also all this to say Biller’s historical, opposites-attract romance, with its bacchanalian Viennese setting, one of the best heroes I’ve ever read, and terrific banter is worth reading with steady momentum over a few days. Maybe don’t start it, as I did, when you won’t have the luxury.

For now, the blurbish bits, and then I can try to piece together a few thoughts on why I liked Hotel of Secrets as much as I did: 

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.

Hotel of Secrets is wonderful for two reasons: super-likeable characters, mainly Maria and Eli, but there are others (this is definitely an ensemble cast, maybe too many “ensembled”) and terrific banter. The romance soars when the narrative focus is squarely on Maria and Eli, a case in point, their not-quite-meet-cute when Eli, newly-arrived in Vienna, comes to the aid of an inebriated woman outside the hotel he’s been sent to investigate; tipsy Maria has just been reminded of her fortune to meet “the man”…to her heart:

“He’s very strong and tall and good-looking and that mouth is indeed quite something, but he’s not the man.” “I have no idea who you’re talking to,” he said, the impatience in his voice clear. “I think you’re drunk.” “Yes, hold on to that. Good. Irritation is good. Just dump me on the ground and leave me. That’s the wisest course of action. Above all, though, we cannot sleep together.” He dropped his hands. She staggered, but remained upright. His expression of horror was — rather delicious actually. No, not delicious. Absolutely not. “That will not present any difficulty,” he said, and then he bowed crisply, and, bless him, walked away.

This initial encounter sets the tone and pace of Eli and Maria’s relationship, his control, her wolfish lust; his restraint, her loose, delightful quips. Biller does two things very right with them: their differences are also part and parcel of their vulnerabilities and they are, at heart, incredibly decent and have a capacity for friendship, affection, and companionship. They are good to their families, good to each other, and hard on themselves. Their “vegetable” love, to quote Marvell, is organically grown and therefore, believable; their “dark moment,” when they are close to being torn asunder, is a result of their vulnerabilities, their emotional Achilles’ heels. That Biller has them speak honestly and doesn’t belabor their separation worked for me.

What didn’t? I think the narrative is bloated by the romantic suspense plot and the plot itself is poorly paced. It drags and then is promptly resolved, with some unconvincing about-faces on the part of, one in particular, certain secondary characters. When a romance attempts to do two things, to marry two genres, this may be the result. It leans more toward one, see my constant frustration with Raybourn’s Veronica Speedwell series, much as I love it, or toward the other, Biller’s romance is the nonpareil; her suspense plot, as chaotic as Vienna’s Fasching. Miss Austen and I heartily recommend Biller’s Hotel of Secrets for Eli and Maria and their wit-infused exchanges as offering “real comfort,” Emma.

Diana Biller’s Hotel of Secrets is published by St. Martin’s Griffin. I received a Hotel of Secrets e-arc from St. Martin’s via Netgalley. This does not impede the expression of my honest opinion.

25 thoughts on “Review: Diana Biller’s HOTEL OF SECRETS

  1. I believe I liked it more than you did, and it may be that it’s because I managed to read it in one sitting (didn’t sleep, but then, I only have the cats to think of, so I could risk being a zombie the following day).

    Eli is really the most wonderful hero, isn’t he? Being present, just helping her face whatever new disaster happened, backing her up as she faced whoever and whatever she had to face. And! He presented her with full disclosure! and when that didn’t put her off, he did research!

    I would apologize for all the exclamation points, but I really can’t–he’s that wonderful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Don’t apologize!! I would add many many exclamations marks to Eli!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! He is, yes, that wonderful. I like Maria too. They were both terrific. I’m saving your review to read!!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Oh Maria is wonderful too–the care she takes with Eli, both physically and emotionally, and the fact that they talk with each other rather than at each other.

        And about Maria: her internal dialogue when she’s in the carriage? when she decides not to be terrified/panicked? ::happy sigh::

        Liked by 1 person

          1. I believe Ms Biller only writes standalone novels, but that’s exactly what I thought; I’d love to see how Mac grows into the man who can say, “to hell with all this bullshit, this is the woman I want, everyone can just deal with it”


            1. She does write connected books! Her first two were about the Moore family, two brothers are the heroes. I am so looking forward to this one, but waiting for a library hold.

              Liked by 1 person

  2. I just finished this yesterday. I was able to read it over 48 hours, with breaks for sleep and Real Life duties, so I had fun reading it.
    What a romp! Loved the romance! 5 stars. I also loved the competence p0rn–we got to see Maria actually work at managing the hotel.
    My quibbles match yours–especially the Imperial part of the suspense plot. I rolled my eyes, a lot, over that part. And, indeed, I felt the violence of that subplot took some of the sheen off the rest of the book.
    I join everyone who hopes for a Mac and Hannah story–they were so cute.
    Now, if only I could get rid of ‘The Blue Danube’ earworm!


    1. That is the BEST way of reading a book. I find that is so even when the book isn’t the terrificest, as I’m experiencing now.

      It definitely, romance-wise, had the te-dum-te-dum of the waltz momentum and what a lovable hero, one of the best I’ve read. Yes, the sub-plot was implausible and de trop, but we happily ignore it to enjoy Maria and Eli(jah). He reminded me of the hero of Willig’s latest. Mac and Hannah for the next book! Hope all your spring reading is as good as this one!


  3. I just finished Hotel of Secrets, and I have thoughts! It was a wonderful book. I am especially fond of the setting because my mother was Viennese. I loved hearing about the food that Hannah was cooking and baking. I loved that we got to see both POVs, Maria and Eli. He is a delicious hero! I loved when Maria hunted all over Vienna to get supplies for her ball, scrounging and bargaining. I loved the male friendship that developed between Eli, Mac and Claude.
    Romance wise, it was a very long, very slow burn, and totally worth the wait. I absolutely didn’t care whether the suspense plot was plausible. Just like we don’t really care if the suspense plot of Casablanca makes sense. Although it was and is still true that Vienna is crawling with spies.


    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed it and everything you’ve said here is true for me too! Isn’t it terrific. I’ll have to read her other books: I have the first in paper and the other as “e”…

      I have to tell you that my favourite film, possibly, is The Third Man…Vienna-set and full of spies.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh yes, The Third Man! You’ll enjoy Biller’s other books. The first one has a slight paranormal element-there is a ghost. The second one is set in Paris just after the Franco-Prussian War, the 1870’s, and I learned a bit about the Paris Commune. It’s an historic era I knew absolutely nothing about, and I’m surprised more authors haven’t used it, there’s so much dramatic potential. The heroine of that one is a ballerina, which brings me back around to Vienna, because my former mother-in-law was in the Vienna Opera Ballet. She lived in Vienna right through World War II and afterwards, and omg the stories she had to tell!


        1. Oh, a ghost…like Simone St. James?? I’m reading Karen White’s spinoff house-ghosts series now, I’m not sure she can do the woo-woo as well as Simone St. James, but I’m mildly enjoying it.

          Oh, yes, the Paris Commune is fascinating: I think David Runciman did a podcast on it, not sure…but it was fascinating. I’m sure they were amazing stories: and Vienna is, of course, a town all about the music!

          Liked by 1 person

      2. I have yet to see the Third Man, though I remember being fascinated by the old trailer for it, which showed the zither playing itself, IIRC? I can’t find it on youtube. 😦


        1. Oh, the zither music, Joseph Cotton, filmed in “real” post-WWII Vienna, it’s all FANTASTIC. I think it’s one of those you might catch on TCM, if you have it, or the Criterion Channel? Is it available for rent at the ‘zon? It’s fantastic. Worth going out of your way to watch.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Yes, The Third Man is a must-see! And to follow up with another post-war film, try A Foreign Affair, with Marlene Dietrich and Jean Arthur. This one is set in post-war Berlin, and it’s romantic comedy, but directed by Billy Wilder, so you know it’s got a little bit of a bite to it.


            1. I’ve prided myself on being up on post-war films, but I’ve never seen that one. Thank you for the rec! Now let’s see who’s streaming it…???!!!


Leave a comment for Miss Bates ....

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s