Editorial note: I was given a copy of The Beautiful Strangers in exchange for a review.
The Beautiful Strangers by Camille Di Maio is a captivating historical fiction novel full of Old Hollywood, romance and mystery. There’s even a supernatural element, too. But at the heart of the novel is a woman trying to find her place in the world.
I grew up watching Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly movies. So any story that features Old Hollywood already has my interest. And the setting in The Beautiful Strangers is absolutely top-notch! It takes place at the famed Hotel del Coronado where Some Like It Hot was filmed. If you haven’t seen it or if it’s been a while, you’ll definitely want to re-watch it after reading this one!
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.
The author Camille Di Maio employed a unique storytelling style: we read the story from not just Kate’s perspective but also another young woman who happens to be Coronado’s ghost. Even if supernatural is not normally your thing (which it typically isn’t for me), this concept serves the story quite well. Without giving anything away, you learn much from the young woman who died under questionable circumstances in the late 1800s. The two storylines will eventually come together in such a fulfilling way.
Something to note: the ghost in the story is based on the real woman whose body was found on the steps of the Hotel del Coronado in 1892—who then became the famous ghost at the hotel.
Kate is such a likable character. You feel her struggle between duty to family but also a longing for something more. I think this is something many people can relate to. I love that she takes on the this big journey and heads down south to Coronado. While she had starry-eyed expectations for Old Hollywood, she definitely learns some life lessons pretty quick in her journey. Things immediately pick up for her once she gets to Coronado and meets the charming and kind-hearted Sean who plays a big role in the book as well. I just adored their dynamic—it’s sweet and genuine.
While Coronado is supposed to be short-lived for Kate, she instantly feels at home there. In a sense, this is also a coming-of-age tale where Kate looks to take control of her own path.
A look at Old Hollywood
I can tell the author did so much research with this book! First with just the overall setting of Southern California, you feel as if you’re suddenly transported to the sunny beaches in the 1950s. The details of the film making process is so interesting but I most enjoyed Kate’s interactions with some of the movie stars, especially with Marilyn Monroe. It’s not just about the glitz and glamour but really dives into the people behind the myths.
Of course, I have to mention there’s also plenty of fantastic details about the Hotel del Coronado, which was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1977. The hotel opened in 1888 and housed presidents, royalty and celebrities through the years. One of the best settings I’ve read in quite a while.
So the big question for Kate throughout the story is the mystery of who is the beautiful stranger? But also for the reader, is the question of why the book is titled The Beautiful Strangers in plural? You’ll find all that out, I promise!