Published by William Morrow on April 23, 2019
Source: the publisher
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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.
I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
I just love Southern authors and Southern settings, and there is specifically something about the work of Dorothea Benton Frank that makes me very excited. She writes the Lowcountry and just really nails it. I love how she represents the people of the South and the traditions, the food and the way we speak so well. Her stories never fail to make me smile and laugh while I’m reading.
In this story, two families with two very different backgrounds, from two very different parts of the country, are trying to work together to throw a spectacular wedding for their children, Shelby and Fred. Shelby’s parents are from Chicago and very wealthy; Fred’s family is from the Lowcountry of South Carolina. These two groups of people couldn’t be more different if they tried. This is more than evident when each family attends the engagement party thrown by the other family. Fred’s family is astounded by the opulence of Shelby’s family’s lifestyle up in Chicago, and Shelby’s family is shocked and wide-eyed when confronted with Fred’s family’s more rural-ish lifestyle.
I feel like this probably happens so often in America and all over the world-heck, it even happened in my own family to a small degree when my parents got married, and also just a little bit when I married my husband. Two different sets of parents with different lifestyles can mean a major butting-of-heads when it comes to co-financing large events like rehearsal dinners and things like that. It can be so embarrassing to be in-between two sets of parents that disagree and when a big blow-up occurs as a result, it is even worse. So reading about the drama in this family when, for example, Shelby’s mother insisted that the wedding was not just Shelby’s but “mine too!” felt familiar. And this was done so well in the story! The thing that made the wedding drama, the family disagreements, and all of the cultural differences so great was that Dorothea Benton Frank infused her own style of humor into each situation. I mean, yes, it is really funny when people show up to local or regional events and are woefully unprepared and unfamiliar with local customs or fare. Situations like this always work better when people have a good attitude and have a good time instead of turning their noses up or acting judgmental or rude-however, this behavior only makes more room for comedy and drama to be added, no matter where the story is set.
Adding some humor to these situations is something that Ms. Frank does so well and is one reason that I love her stories so well, in addition to her perfect settings.
One thing that I really love about this story is that Shelby and Fred are just over the wedding drama and want to have something low-key and easy. I love that Shelby loves Fred’s family, even though they aren’t wealthy, because they are all close-knit and love one another so much. She recognizes that they’re a little on the zany side, but she embraces that about them and loves it. (I love Fred’s family too. So much!)
And I love that major things happen in the story for both families. Life throws its curveballs, which really makes these characters re-evaluate themselves and how they think and act. I love this because this is how life really is: a constant series of re-evaluations. Hard stuff comes for everyone with equal opportunity and hard things aren’t regional. It is always good to see characters take stock of their situations and make some changes when needed, especially where it relates to family and relationships.
I’m always and forever a fan of Dorothea Benton Frank’s work. Always, always, always. This is the perfect read for spring or summer or for losing yourself in a story that makes you smile. In particular, fans of Southern fiction will love it.