Friday, May 3, 2019

Book Review - By Invitation Only by Dorothea Benton Frank

Book Synopsis
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.


Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

My Review
By Invitation Only is the story of two very different families coming together for the wedding of their children.  Diane English Stiftel is a divorced single mother who lives on the peach farm in South Carolina where she grew up, along with her aging parents and her brother.  Diane is the mother of the groom, Fred.  Susan and Alejandro Cambria are wealthy socialites from Chicago.  They are the parents of the bride, Shelby.  Although most of the novel is told from Diane's perspective, there are chapters from Susan's perspective as well.  It is heartwarming and sometimes humorous seeing the adventures of this new extended family over the space of a couple of years (August 2016 to Spring 2018).

I wanted to read this book because I love southern fiction and always enjoy Dorothea Benton Frank's storytelling.  This novel was no exception!   It is told with great warmth and humor.  By Invitation Only was a quick read for me because I read in any spare time I had over a weekend -- just because I did not want to put the book down.

Shelby and Fred, the bride and groom, were sweet characters but the novel really focuses more on their families. 

I loved the character of Diane.  I related to her in many ways, and she is a character I would choose as a friend.  She is kind and empathetic and really cares about others;  she's also very down to earth.  I enjoyed reading the passages of the book about the peach farm and the farm stand business that the family runs, where they sell peach jam, baked goods, and fresh produce.

Susan is initially not an empathetic character;  she presents as materialistic and shallow.  However, as the characters' lives change over the course of time, she also evolves as a person.  I especially enjoyed her changing relationship - and friendship - with Diane.

There are some great secondary characters in this novel as well, like Diane's delightfully outspoken mother, Virnell, her brother Floyd, who always livens up a party, and her long time suitor, Alden.

There are many twists and turns in this novel, as fortunes change and unexpected romances develop, and things change over time - as they do in real life.   I found the lively nature of the storytelling, along with these twists and turns, particularly engaging.

I recommend By Invitation Only as a weekend or vacation read.   You will get to spend some time in both small town South Carolina and with the glamorous set in Chicago, and meet some characters that you will not soon forget! 

Author Bio
New York Times bestselling author Dorothea Benton Frank was born and raised on Sullivans Island, South Carolina. She resides in the New York area with her husband.

Find her on the web at, or like her on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram.
I received a copy of this book from HarperCollins and TLC Book Tours.

Book Review - The Austen Playbook (London Celebrities) by Lucy Parker

Book Synopsis
In which experienced West End actress Freddy Carlton takes on an Austen-inspired play, a scandal at a country estate, an enthusiastic search for a passion outside of acting…and the (some people might say icy*) heart of London’s most feared theater critic.

*if those people were being nice

Freddy Carlton knows she should be focusing on her lines for The Austen Playbook, a live-action TV event where viewers choose the outcome of each scene, but her concentration’s been blown. The palatial estate housing the endeavor is now run by the rude (brilliant) critic who’s consistently slammed her performances of late. James “Griff” Ford-Griffin has a penchant for sarcasm, a majestic nose and all the sensitivity of a sledgehammer.

She can’t take her eyes off him.

Griff can hardly focus with a contagious joy fairy flitting about near him, especially when Freddy looks at him like that. His only concern right now should be on shutting down his younger brother’s well-intentioned (disastrous) schemes—or at the very least on the production (not this one) that might save his family home from the banks.
Instead all he can think of is soft skin and vibrant curls.

As he’s reluctantly dragged into her quest to rediscover her passion for the stage and Freddy is drawn into his research on a legendary theater star, the adage about appearances being deceiving proves abundantly true. It’s the unlikely start of something enormous…but a single revelation about the past could derail it all.

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Purchase Links

Amazon | Books-A-Million | Barnes & Noble


My Review

The Austen Playbook tells the story of Freddy (Frederica) Carlton, an actress from a London acting family who has traveled to the English countryside to appear in a Jane Austen inspired "choose your own adventure" style TV production.  While rehearsing to play Lydia Bennett in the production, she runs into theater critic Griff, who has been very harsh about her acting in the past.  He is at his family's estate to research a future film about a theater star -- and a story that connects both their families.


I wanted to read this novel initially because I was intrigued by the London theater setting.  I loved theater (and studied acting) in my 20's and knew I would like the setting.  I did!  However, I was even more interested in the sparks that flew between Freddy and Griff ... and I loved the family history that brought the past into this story as well.


The writing is smart and lively, with some clever British wit.  For instance, this description from the book:  "It was a truth, universally acknowledged that an actor in a rut must be in a want of a spot of murder, mayhem, and true love" (Kindle location 441).


The story really became especially interesting to me when Freddy and Griff took off to a spooky neighboring estate to research the past of Henrietta (Freddy's ancestor) and Sir George (Griff's ancestor).  The past that begins to unravel there - and the way it impacts the present - was fascinating.


The author uses a lot of British slang and uniquely British words.  I was grateful for the word definition feature on my Kindle!   It was fun learning a lot of new words and expressions by reading this book.


This is the fourth book in the London Celebrities series.  I have not read the rest of the series (yet!) but enjoyed this novel as a standalone read.


I recommend The Austen Playbook for fans of smartly written romance, British settings, all things Austen, and lively wit and storytelling.


Author Bio

Lucy Parker lives in the gorgeous Central Otago region of New Zealand, where she feels lucky every day to look out at mountains, lakes and vineyards. She has a degree in Art History, loves museums and galleries, and doodles unrecognisable flowers when she has writer’s block.

Her interest in romantic fiction began with a pre-teen viewing of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (Firth-style), which prompted her to read the book as well, and the rest was history.


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