The Bissette family is on the verge of homelessness. Arthur Bissette’s factory is about to be shut down by the bank and seized, along with the family home in Chicago and summer cottage on Mackinac Island, Michigan. It is June 1894 and Arthur, along with his wife, Deborah, and their only child, Elena, will again spend the summer on Mackinac Island. But this summer Deborah is determined that financier Chester Darrington, the wealthiest and most desired bachelor, will become Elena’s fiancee, securing their family’s future. Deborah is aware that they have fallen on hard times, but her husband has not informed her of the extent of their precarious financial situation.
Elena is nineteen, beautiful, intelligent, and quite bored with the societal obligations placed upon her. She dreams of meeting the man meant for her and marrying for love, rather than financial security. But she is also a dutiful, devoted daughter who understands that it is up to her to assist her parents by marrying well.
Elena is also a gifted artist who loves to steal away from the cottage late at night to the deserted lighthouse where she gazes at the stars and sketches. Her mother has discouraged her artistry, insisting that it is not lady-like, so Elena keeps her drawings concealed in the secret hideaway where she has taken refuge in the evenings over the course of the past six summers. But one evening, she is shocked to be joined there by a handsome and charming gentleman named Chase. She believes that he is an employee of the Grand Hotel and he could never imagine she is the infamous Elena Bissette, the belle of Chicago society who has allegedly set her sights on Chester Darrington. They share their hopes and dreams, but Elena knows that their time together will be limited. Her parents would never approve of Chase, and she loves them too much to disappoint them. But can she go along with her mother’s plan and marry solely for money, abandoning her dream of marrying for love?
Author Melanie Dobson transports readers to beautiful Mackinac Island, Michigan, a popular summer resort, and a simpler time. America was on the precipice of the twentieth century’s myriad innovations and cultural transformations, but for a brief time, good manners and social standing remained the focus of a privileged few. The Bissettes are on a steep and seemingly unstoppable descent into financial ruin and societal banishment as they embark upon their annual summer sojourn from Chicago to Mackinac Island. Elena’s parents — her mother, in particular — have pinned their hopes upon their only child. And their expectations weigh heavily on Elena’s young shoulders.
Elena is instantly endearing, balking at the duties and traditions that constrain her spirit, but loathe her disappoint or hurt her parents. She feels like an actress, performing on a stage all day and into the evenings as she attends the various balls and other social events that bore her, as she plots to slip away after her parents retire to her beloved lighthouse. Donning her maid’s old dress, she rides the bike that the family’s butler hides for her behind the house and escapes to the one place where she is able to be her authentic self. When her solitude is disturbed the intriguing Chase, she is further torn between her obligations and the possibility of a meaningful relationship transcending the arrangement her mother is bent on seeing come to fruition.
Dobson wisely brings dimension and depth to the character of Deborah. She is a graceless socialite — she often says the wrong thing, gossips too much, and clumsily attempts to foist her daughter upon the Darrington family, to her husband’s chagrin. But she is well-meaning and empathetic. She wants her daughter to live a comfortable, secure life because she, after all, knows what poverty is like. And so both Arthur and Elena forgive her infuriating gaffes. Arthur believably dotes on his only daughter as he worries about their future. He is running out of options, but his integrity and decency prevent him from fully investing in Deborah’s schemes.
The elusive Chester Darrington has a reputation for staying one step ahead of the numerous young ladies who hope to ensnare him in marriage. A savvy businessman, he longs to meet a woman who will appreciate and love him for the man he is, rather than his bank balance. Because he is tired of being pursued, he is hesitant to trust. That is until he meets a young woman he believes is different — unafraid to speak her mind, uninterested in his social and financial standing, a talented and compassionate artist, and as enchanted by the stars as he is. She relates to Andromeda, so he nicknames her “Andy” and ponders whether they can really have a future together. After all, he isn’t sure who she really is and he has not been truthful with her about his occupation.
Mistaken identities, broken trust, familial complications, and potential business ventures keep Love Finds You in Mackinac Island Michigan interesting and often surprising. Dobson also weaves a secondary mystery into the story. In the lighthouse, Elena discovers an old diary with entries dating back to 1812 when the British occupied the island and demanded that Americans disavow their allegiance to the U.S. The author’s husband has disappeared, leaving her and their two young children to fend for themselves. Elena is determined to learn the end of the story — what happened to that young family — and the result is a surprising and touching connection to someone close to the Bissettes.
Love Finds You in Mackinac Island Michigan is a quaint, charming, and refreshingly entertaining story. Dobson’s deft pacing, crisp dialogue, and lovable characters make it an enjoyable tale about universal themes: love vs. money, duty and loyalty vs. fulfillment of one’s own dreams, and the challenges and rewards associated with fully trusting.