By Invitation Onlyby Dorothea Benton Frank (Website, Facebook, Twitter)
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on April 23, 2019 (Reprint Edition)
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Country Life, Family, Friendship, Marriage & Divorce, Southern
Source: TLC Book Tours
Amazon • Book Depository • Goodreads
I received this book for free from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
The Lowcountry of South Carolina is where By Invitation Only begins at a barbecue engagement party thrown by Diane English Stiftel, her brother Floyd, and her parents to celebrate her son’s engagement. On this gorgeous, magical night, the bride’s father, Alejandro Cambria, a wealthy power broker whose unbelievably successful career in private equity made him one of Chicago’s celebrated elite, discovers the limits and possibilities of cell phone range. While the mother of the bride, Susan Kennedy Cambria, who dabbles in the world of public relations and believes herself deserving of every square inch of her multimillion-dollar penthouse and imaginary carrara marble pedestal, learns about moonshine and dangerous liaisons.
Soon By Invitation Only zooms to Chicago, where the unraveling accelerates. Nearly a thousand miles away from her comfortable, familiar world, Diane is the antithesis of the bright lights and super-sophisticated guests attending her son Fred’s second engagement party. Why a second party? Maybe it had been assumed that the first one wouldn’t be up to snuff? Fred is marrying Shelby Cambria, also an only child. The Cambrias’ dearest wish is for their daughter to be happy. If Shelby wants to marry Frederick, aka Fred, they will not stand in her way—although Susan does hope her friends won’t think her daughter is marrying more than a few degrees beneath her socially. At the same time, Diane worries that her son will be lost to her forever.
By Invitation Only is a tale of two families, one struggling to do well, one well to do, and one young couple—the privileged daughter of Chicago’s crème de la crème and the son of hard -working Southern peach farmers.
Dorothea Benton Frank offers a funny, sharp, and deeply empathetic novel of two very different worlds—of limousines and pickup trucks, caviars and pigs, skyscrapers and ocean spray—filled with a delightful cast of characters who all have something to hide and a lot to learn. A difference in legal opinions, a headlong dive from grace, and an abrupt twist will reveal the truth of who they are and demonstrate, when it truly counts, what kind of grit they have. Are they living the life they want, what regrets do they hold, and how would they remake their lives if they were given the invitation to do so?
By Invitation Only is classic Dorothea Benton Frank—a mesmerizing Lowcountry Tale that roars with spirit, humor, and truth, and forces us to reconsider our notions of what it means to be a Have or a Have Not.
Taking a refreshing turn from mysteries and thrillers, I read the charming Southern fiction book, By Invitation Only by new-to-me author Dorothea Benton Frank. After a few chapters, I was enchanted by the South Carolina setting where mother Diane struggles to pull together an engagement party for her only son Fred, who just happens to be marrying a rich Chicago socialite named Shelby. Diane, along with her parents and brother Floyd own a farm where they grow peaches and other vegetables, selling them at a roadside store that has been a staple in their Lowcountry part of South Carolina for decades. But Diane doesn’t think that Shelby’s rich parents will think that they are up to snuff, and when they come down for the engagement party, her assumptions seem to be proven true.
Susan is used to catered dinners, chauffeured cars, and superficial acquaintances, not barbecues thrown together by the soon-to-be groom’s family on their beautiful yet shabby and sprawling farm with loving family and friends in attendance. While she is busy looking down her nose at everyone and trying to hide a budding attraction to Floyd, the father of the bride won’t take his attention off of his phone and his conference calls long enough to get to know anyone. Fred and Shelby only have eyes for each other, so everything is right in their world.
What happens when the mothers of the soon to be wedded are polar opposites and have to help their children plan a wedding together? In this case, Susan tries to throw her muscle around in terms of money, and Diane sticks to her good old Southern principles and stands up for herself and the kids. Both women ultimately have their worlds ripped apart in different ways, and I loved seeing how they dealt with their adversities.
Told through alternating chapters with different characters points of view, I really enjoyed getting several different perspectives on the story as it moved forward. Both Diane and Susan had a hard time navigating the tough time of letting their children move on into the next step of adulthood: married life. The different people around the main characters were very unique and unforgettable. Shelby’s chapters gave a great look at someone who has grown up in a rich family that is a bit cold and dysfunctional discovering that she’s marrying into a very warm, welcoming and loving family that has your back no matter what. She seemed to have the most character growth out of everyone.
Susan was a lot more difficult to unravel and unpack than Diane since she was so guarded, and that made me dislike her a bit more–but I think that was by design. I would have liked to see more dimension out of the son Fred, but ultimately it’s the ladies that shine through as the focus of this story with Diane, Susan, Shelby, and Grandma Vernell.
I give By Invitation Only a five out of five. I loved Diane and her relationship with her mother and brother. Their farm and loyalty to family were second to none. The writing was smooth and flowed seamlessly from chapter to chapter, with distinct voices for each narrator. It was easy to tell who was speaking in each chapter. This is a great, fun, summer read, even though a good part of it takes place up here in snowy winter Chicago. I’m definitely a fan of Dorothea Benton Frank now.
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