Review: By Invitation Only by Dorothea Benton Frank

Title: By Invitation Only by Dorothea Benton Frank
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Length: 400 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss


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.


By Invitation Only by Dorothea Benton Frank is a delightfully charming and utterly heartwarming novel starring two completely opposite families who are brought together through their children’s upcoming wedding.

Diane English Stiftel lives and works with her family on their peach farm in South Caroline. Her only son, Fred, is engaged to marry the love of his life, Shelby Cambria, whose wealthy parents, Alejandro and Susan, lead a lavish and expensive lifestyle.  The differences in their lives are highlighted when each family hosts an engagement party for the happy couple. Fred’s family eagerly holds a down-to earth barbeque that is casual and very relaxing.  Cambria’s mother goes all out with an expensive and formal party at an exclusive establishment in Chicago. With very different lifestyles and values, will the marriage of their children bring the families closer together?

Diane is a no nonsense woman with a wry sense of humor and plenty of common sense. Extremely close to her beloved mom, Virnell and her brother, Floyd, the family business is well oiled machine with everyone pulling their share of the work.  Happily single, Diane is taken aback by her reaction to the news that her close friend Alden Corrigan is in a new relationship.  Is it too late for her to confess her surprising feelings for the man who has been such a big part of her life for so long?

Susan is a complete and utter snob who does not make any effort to hide her disdain for her daughter’s soon to be in-laws. She and Alejandro flaunt their wealth at every turn and cost is never a concern for them.  Susan is in her element planning Shelby’s wedding  and she does not take it well when her daughter puts the brakes on her over-the-top vision for the upcoming nuptials.

Both Diane and Susan are aware that their children’s marriage will bring changes to their lives. However, neither of them are prepared for the unexpected twists and turns that await them after their kids’ engagement parties.  Diane has an easier time adjusting when life throws unanticipated curveballs her way. Susan, on the other hand, is dealt a shocking blow that will alter the course of her life. Is Susan prepared to handle the difficulties that lie ahead of her? How will these changes affect the women’s relationship?

By Invitation Only is a wonderful novel that is humorous yet thought-provoking. Diane and her family are an absolutely wonderful and it is quite apparent they love and support each other no matter what comes their way. Susan is a bit of a difficult woman to like at first and it is interesting to watch her rise to the challenges in the aftermath of unforeseen difficulties. Dorothea Benton Frank brings the characters and the various settings vividly to life as the Stiftel, English and Cambria families unexpectedly weather life’s storms together. This heartfelt release  will appeal to readers who enjoy family-centric novels.

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