The Beautiful Strangers by Camille Di Maio is an engaging story about dreams, love, Old Hollywood and a mystery, too. The following book club questions will have spoilers so if you haven’t read the novel yet, check out my review first.
The year is 1958 and Kate Morgan, tied to her family’s failing San Francisco restaurant, is looking for an escape. She gets her chance by honoring a cryptic plea from her grandfather: find the beautiful stranger. The search takes her to Hotel del Coronado, the beachfront landmark on the Southern California coast where filming is underway on the movie Some Like It Hot.
For a movie lover like Kate, it’s a fantasy come true. So is the offer of a position at the glamorous hotel. And a new romance. But as sure as she is that Coronado is her future, Kate discovers it’s also where the ghosts of the past have come to stay. Sixty years ago a guest died tragically, and she still haunts the hotel’s halls. As the lives of two women—generations apart—intertwine, Kate’s courageous journey could change more than she ever imagined. And with Coronado wending its way through her soul, she must follow her dreams…wherever they may lead.
Let’s get into the discussion questions
- The book begins in the year 1892 where we learn a woman is in a nightmare marriage and is willing to do anything to break from it. What did you think about the beginning? How did it set the stage for what was to come?
- We then meet Kate Morgan in San Francisco in 1958 who feels suffocated working at the family restaurant—she aspires for so much more. Can you relate to feeling like that—wanting to rise above expectations?
- Kate’s grandfather who is suffering from dementia tells her once again to find the beautiful stranger. Why did Kate finally decide to go to find her?
- What did you think about the dual narrative of Kate Morgan the ghost and Kate in the ’50s? What stuck out to you the most about reading the story in that style?
- Kate has rose-colored glasses view of Hollywood, which quickly diminishes a bit when she gets her luggage stolen in LA. When did Kate start to see that the Hollywood of her dreams is more of a fantasy? Let’s talk about the perception of Hollywood vs. the reality.
- Still, there’s plenty of vivid details of the movie-making process and Kate interacts with some of the actors, including Marilyn Monroe. Why do you think Marilyn opened up to Kate? Do you think Marilyn saw a bit of the old her (Norma Jean) in Kate?
- Kate gets to know Marilyn beyond the facade of her movie star persona. What did Kate learn from their interactions? Did you pick up anything about Marilyn’s life that you didn’t already know?
- On the last meeting, Marilyn tells Kate: “take love where you can get it.” What did she mean by that? What does that mean to you?
- Through both the past and present, we learn about the tragic love story between Kate’s grandfather and Mary Carter. Do you think her grandfather ever got over the loss and leaving Coronado behind?
- Let’s discuss the romance between Sean and Kate. What did you think about their love story? When do you think they really started to fall for each other? Why were both so drawn to Coronado and the hotel?
- Kate grows quite a bit from the beginning of the book to the end. What are some of the ways that Kate is somewhat modern and ahead of her time?
- The mystery of the beautiful stranger is eventually revealed—it’s the ghost Kate Morgan. And we learn why Kate’s grandfather was so persistent that she find out about the beautiful stranger: his birth mothers’ family left a trust for George. Kate believes her grandfather found out the information after he started suffering from memory loss, so that’s why didn’t retrieve the money. He could only hold onto memory fragments and give Kate clues. Let’s discuss all of this—did anything surprise you about the reveal of the mystery as well as the trust fund?
- To touch on the supernatural aspect a bit, why do you think the ghost Kate had to remain haunting the hotel? Do you believe in ghosts?
- The ghost Kate is the beautiful stranger but we learn that Marilyn is also a beautiful stranger. Why was Marilyn a beautiful stranger, too? What did you about the ending overall?
- Have you seen Some Like it Hot?
- Have you been to the Hotel del Coronado?
More historical fiction recommendations
If you’re wanting to read some more historical fiction, here’s some great picks for you. (Click the titles or photos to purchase from Amazon.)
The Beantown Girls by Jane Healey is a moving story about a trio of friends who head to Europe in 1944. The year is 1944 and Fiona Denning has her entire future planned out. But when her fiancé is reported missing after being shot down in Germany, Fiona’s long-held plans are shattered. Determined to learn her fiancé’s fate, Fiona leaves Boston to volunteer overseas as a Red Cross Clubmobile girl, recruiting her two best friends to come along. There’s the outspoken Viviana, who is more than happy to quit her secretarial job for a taste of adventure. Then there’s Dottie, a shy music teacher whose melodious talents are sure to bring heart and hope to the boys on the front lines. As the three friends begin to understand the real reasons they all came to the front, their courage and camaraderie will see them through some of the best and worst times of their lives.
Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton is a beautiful and passionate book about the strength of sacrifice. The year is 1958 in Havana and the country is changing at a rapid pace due to political unrest. Elisa Perez is the sheltered daughter of a wealthy sugar baron. Her life takes a fateful turn when she begins a passionate affair with a revolutionary named Pablo. The other is told from Elisa’s granddaughter Marisol Ferrera who travels to Cuba in 2017 to fulfill Elisa’s wishes of having her ashes scattered in Cuba. Arriving in Havana, Marisol comes face-to-face with the contrast of Cuba’s tropical, timeless beauty and its perilous political climate. When more family history comes to light and Marisol finds herself attracted to a man with secrets of his own, she’ll need the lessons of her grandmother’s past to help her understand the true meaning of courage.
Feel free to comment below with your thoughts about The Beautiful Strangers!