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Available 4.15.24


The Lost Dresses

The Lost Dresses, February 2024
by M.A. McLaughlin

Alcove Press
304 pages
ISBN: 1639105646
EAN: 9781639105649
Kindle: B0BXKGJYRF
Hardcover / e-Book
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"Two timelines and a poet's love affair in Verona"

Fresh Fiction Review

The Lost Dresses
M.A. McLaughlin

Reviewed by Clare O'Beara
Posted February 16, 2024

Romance Historical | Women's Fiction Historical

If you ask Google about the poet Christina Rossetti you’ll see a mature woman’s face, sad-looking, and she’s wearing a black dress. This imaginative historical fiction revisits two timelines, as two different women travel to Verona, Italy. One is the young, cheerful Christina, fashionably attired, from an English-Italian literary family. The other is a fabric historian who wants to learn what happened to the poet and THE LOST DRESSES.

 

Verona, 1947, with bullet holes still in the walls and losses among families. Textile historian Marianne Baxter is contacted by an old school friend and asked to travel to Verona from America to present a museum exhibition. Rufina Roselli discovered a trunk with three fine dresses in a sealed-off room in the museum, which was once a grand palazzo. Due to a letter with them, she knows they belonged to the poet, but nothing more. Marianne is predictably delighted, challenged and determined as she sets to work to learn about her subject and display the clothes to locals and tourists alike. The fabric industry of the region ceased during the war and needs help to re-open.

 

England and Verona, 1864. Christina Rossetti plans a trip with her family to her parent’s original home after she finds a secret compartment in a box owned by her late father. A pendant in the box and an old book lead her to Verona, where a library is missing a copy of Dante’s Inferno and a family is missing some emeralds. At this point, Christina lives up to her arty image, with poems about goblins, seduction and nature. She does good work, with her worthy sister. But she lacks a real romance, and the Italian trip frees her in spirit. The later timeline asks why, if she found romance, it didn’t last.

 

Having recently read a book set during the time of walled cities in Italian nation-states, I was expecting lavish sixteenth-century dresses to be the subject. But the author M. A. McLaughlin explains, through her characters, that we only know Renaissance clothes from paintings, as fine fabric got re-used and worn out over the decades. During wartime, much was destroyed, including many artworks and buildings. So even clothes from the 1860s would be remarkable to find unaltered. M. A. McLaughlin not only recreates the poet for us but also her immediate family, who all made their mark on society. THE LOST DRESSES is a tense, slow-burn adventure that casts a shadow on Marianne’s life as she learns of the desperation of war, and the crimes that have not ended. I found the read fascinating and will look out for more from this author.

Learn more about The Lost Dresses

SUMMARY

In this rich, atmospheric historical novel, perfect for fans of Brenda Janowitz and Adriana Trigiani, two stories of love and deceit intertwine nearly a hundred years apart in Verona, 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 unfulfilled 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.


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