A Quick Salad for By Invitation Only, a TLC Book Tour

Welcome to another stop on the TLC Book Tour.  I received a free copy of By Invitation Only  for an honest review.  As always, I paired a recipe inspired from the book’s pages with this review.

About By Invitation Only

• Paperback: 432 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (April 23, 2019)

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

Photo by Debbie Zammit

About Dorothea Benton Frank

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 www.dotfrank.com, or like her on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.





What I thought….

It’s a good premise—two people in love only wanting to marry and start their lives, two totally different groups of in-laws, a pretentious meddler, “down-home” people, the über rich.

The writing and characterization had promise from the start.  Diane describes herself as “too old for leggings.  Let’s leave it at that” (2).  She goes on to describe her family as amusingly eccentric:  “We took advantage of self-expression in spades” (5).   I had high hopes.

The story is told through the points-of-view of Diane, Suzan Kennedy Cambria (all three names) and her daughter Shelby.   I also liked this structure for character development.

Frank’s dialogue turned me off.  I can appreciate the importance of everyday speech to bring the story along, but she lost the nuance of making some dialogue relevant.   “Pass me some pepper” can only take you so far.  There were also a few plot twists that were just silly.   You’re really going to haul a chicken from South Carolina to Chicago in the dead of winter for a party?

I wished we had more insight into  Susan (with three names) and what made her tick.  We find out a few details that are shouted out in anger in the final chapters and it’s not explained further.   I lost all respect and love for Susan when her daughter referred to her being in a pharma-induced state (mixed with alcohol).  Poor little rich girl.   Even though she comes around in the end, I’m not sure I believe the conversion.

Conversely, Diane is a rock but might be too much of a push over.  Her brother Floyd?  That characterization was just weird.

I did enjoy the ending (spoiler alert) that brings everyone together to explore rural life in the low country.

I usually pass along my TLC books to an avid reader friend.  Honestly, I don’t know if this one will make it into her reading bag.   I know that Frank has a huge following and if you are one of her fans, you will probably enjoy By Invitation Only.  I will probably pass on her other books.

The Food

There was a lot of good Lowcountry food in the novel and a bit of elevated “rich people” food.  There’s lots of home-grown produce and preserves and pies (from the family’s farm stand).  There’s also a lot of beverages mentioned from peach ice tea to martinis to honey infused moonshine.

I decided to go with a salad, mainly because Shelby basically narrates the recipe in Chapter 18.  The Cambria family and Frederick are celebrating Christmas Eve in their Chicago apartment.  In true Susan fashion, she’s ordered a catered meal in.  Shelby describes the dining room in glowing terms with Tiffany china, Belgian linens and Lalique crystal.  The meal?  “Mom had somebody cook lobsters and take them out of their shells to serve warm over mashed potatoes.  That same person, or maybe somebody else, made a fish chowder that was creamy and delicious” (176).   Being the only cook in the family, Shelby brings “two bags of prewashed romaine lettuce to make a salad, with cherry tomatoes and a container of mini-mozzarella balls in water” (176).  On the following page, she describes her recipe.

Shelby’s Christmas Eve Salad

Interpreted by Debra

Shelby whips up this salad for the pre-made Christmas Eve dinner at Susan Kennedy Cambria’s apartment.


  • 1-2 heads Romaine lettuce (depending on size), chopped
  • 1 container mozzarella pearls (as many as you prefer)
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved (as many as you prefer)
  • 1 heaping t. of Maille mustard
  • pinch of salt (plus more to taste)
  • 1 T. red wine vinegar (plus more for thinning)
  • 1 slug of olive oil


  1. Place a healthy teaspoon of mustard in the bottom of a small mixing bowl with a pinch of salt. Add the “red wine vinegar and a slug of canola oil, whisking it all together like mad. ” (I used extra virgin olive oil instead.)
  2. Thin the dressing with vinegar (if needed) and thicken it with oil until you have enough dressing for the whole salad.
  3. Wash the tomatoes and drain on paper towels. Drain the mozzarella balls and roll them in paper towels to dry.
  4. Place the romaine, cheese and tomatoes in a serving bowl. Pour over the salad dressing and toss with a large fork and spoon until it is coated. Add another pinch of salt, toss and serve.

Yield: 4

For appetizers, the family had some baked cheesy biscuit covered olive “thingies” from Callie’s Biscuits.  I had not heard of Callie’s so I sought out a recipe for their famous biscuits.   I really wanted to make these and try to figure out the olive covered “thingies” that Fred loved.   I ran out of time so a salad it was.

This salad, however, was a great light Sunday lunch for us.  I paired it with some balsamic-butter toasted pretzel buns.  (More about that butter later—I’m still perfecting it.)

I’m linking up with Deb’s Souper Sundays.

And May’s Foodies Reads.

TLC Book Tours is a virtual book tour site that promotes new books by connecting authors with readers via blogs.   For all my book tours, click here.   The next book tour stop at EE will be The Woman in the White Kimono by Ana Johns.

Oceans and decades apart, two women are inextricably bound by the secrets between them.

Intrigued?  I certainly am and I’m only on page 115!

Stay tuned.

7 comments to A Quick Salad for By Invitation Only, a TLC Book Tour