M.A. McLaughlin

Marty Ambrose-McLaughlin

The Lost Dresses of Italy

Two women. Two tragedies. Brought together in Post-WWII Verona where a grieving widow delves into the conspiracy surrounding Christina Rossetti's secret life in Italy.

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Book character in a blue dress standing in front of the "Juliet balcony" in Verona, Italy.

Christina Rossetti, portrait

The Lost Dresses of Italy

Verona, 1947. Textile historian Marianne Baxter comes to post-war Italy with one thing on her mind: three pristine Victorian dresses, once owned by the famous poet Christina Rossetti. Hidden away in a trunk for nearly a century, they were recently discovered at the Fondazione Museo Menigatti and Marianne’s expertise is needed before they go on exhibit. Still grieving the loss of her husband, the trip is also a reason for Marianne to start over. But when she arrives, she discovers an unsupportive but handsome museum owner, a superstitious local community, and a mysterious letter with a scribbled warning hidden among the dresses.

Verona, 1864. Christina Rossetti returns to her family’s homeland in hopes of leaving her unfufilled personal life and poetry career in England and beginning a new chapter. After a chance encounter with an old family friend, she finds a gift her father once gave her: a small ornate box with the three Muses carved into the lid. When she stumbles across a secret compartment, Christina finds a letter from her father with an urgent and personal request.

The letter, speaking of a pendant and stolen book that must be returned, connects Marianne and Christina—and leaves them both with more questions than answers. Inspired by the real-life mysteries surrounding poet Christina Rossetti, The Lost Dresses transports readers to Verona with the enchantment and intrigue of Italian art and fashion.

Reviews

The Lost Dresses of Italy

Kirkus Reviews

A 19th-century poet and a 20th-century fashion curator are the creative women whose lives intertwine in this mix of fact and fiction . . . While this novel’s two engaging storylines take place in different time periods, the similarities between Marianne and Christina enrich both narratives as each woman confronts threats, danger, and violence during her travels. Fans of Adriana Trigiani will delight in this novel’s Italian flavor, and armchair travelers will relish its detailed accounts of Italian art, architecture, and history. Like a lovingly curated museum exhibit, McLaughlin’s artful novel envelops readers in the artistic endeavors of its characters. History, mystery, and fashion blend in this alluring novel.

Booklist

“Rich with details of two historical periods . . . a compelling tale of two women overcoming different forms of grief.” — Booklist

Historical Novel Society

"The Lost Dresses of Italy is a compelling read, combining fashion, poetry, romance and a murder mystery, set in Juliet and Romeo’s evocative Verona.” —Historical Novel Society

Forever Past

Publishers Weekly

"But even more than the atmosphere-rich suspense, the novel’s strength is in its dealing with the question that tormented Claire her whole long life: Was her reckless, passionate pursuit of Lord Byron ultimately worth it? . . . Fans of this romantic trilogy will be sorry to see it end."

Historical Novel Society

"This is a very enjoyable series; however, the third installment may be read as a stand-alone for those who want to jump in and enjoy a solidly researched mystery filled with fascinating characters—Claire, in particular—and a great location."

A Shadowed Fate

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Ambrose’s excellent sequel to 2018’s Claire’s Last Secret finds Claire Claremont, Mary Shelley’s stepsister, living in near-poverty in 1873 Florence, Italy, with her niece and grand-niece, though her memories of reckless youthful passion provide solace. Claire has kept her valuable letters from Lord Byron and Percy Shelley, which ruthless men in Claire's Last Secret made clear were worth murdering for. Claire’s not out of danger yet. Moreover, she’s learned that her illegitimate daughter with Byron, Allegra, did not die of disease in a convent as she was told decades ago. Accompanied by friends, Claire embarks on a desperate search for Allegra across Italy, but those offering answers are often not what they seem. The surprising revelations that populate the book, mixed with a mood of regret and wistful longing for dead loves, imbue the story with a seductive power. Ambrose ratchets up the suspense over the fate of Allegra and the truth about mad, bad, and dangerous-to-know Byron. Readers will eagerly anticipate the final volume in this trilogy.

Booklist

"The second in Ambrose's Lord Byron Mystery series, following Claire's Last Secret (2018), should draw and delight as many readers as the first."

Claire's Last Secret

Historical Novel Society

"This mystery unfolds beyond expectation. The exposition of the ideas, poems, stories, and philosophies of these famous writers is sheer delight. This is memorable historical fiction that promises more in this planned series."

Booklist

"Ambrose seduces readers with writing as smooth as a lady's silk gown and a plot as suspenseful as the appearance of an unexpected visitor, drawing readers into a realm of creative brilliance, tragedy, and secrets."

Kirkus Review

"Ambrose, author of the Mango Bay mysteries (Coastal Corpse, 2016, etc.), writes in a . . . style that suggests romantic thrillers of bygone days."

Events

March 23, 2024
3:30 PM

Guest on Beach Talk Radio at Margaritaville

Tune in to my interview with Ed Ryan as I talk about finishing my recently-published novel, The Lost Dresses of Italy, during post-Hurricane Ian recovery: the challenges and the triumphs!

March 21, 2024
10:00 PM

Booksigning at Copperfish Bookstore

I’ll be giving a short talk and signing copies of The Lost Dresses of Italy, afterwards.

Picture of a stack of books.
February 7, 2024
5:00 PM

Tampa Bay Reads Guest Talk

Tune in to “Tampa Bay Reads” as I chat with host, Linda Hurtado!

Image of a Blinking Owl
February 25, 2024
9:30 PM

Booksigning and Talk at Blinking Owl Books

Come and join me for a talk on how the mystery, history, and romance of Christina Rossetti’s came to life in The Lost Dresses of Italy.

Picture of a woman in a blue dress in front of the "Juliet Balcony" in Verona, Italy.
February 22, 2024
7:00 PM

SW Florida Reading Festival/ Meet the Author: M. A. McLaughlin

Join me for an author presentation and booksigning featuring The Lost Dresses of Italy at Lakes Park Regional Library. Copies of the novel will be sold at this event (credit card only).

This event is part of the 25th anniversary Southwest Florida Reading Festival, to be held on Saturday, March 2. For more information about the festival and its featured authors, visit www.ReadFest.org.

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