300 Days of Sun
by Deborah Lawrenson
Release Date: April 12th 2016
2016 Harper Paperbacks
ARC Edition; 384 Pages
Genre: Fiction / Contemporary
Source: Review copy from TLC Book Tours
4 / 5 Stars
Traveling to Faro,
Portugal, journalist Joanna Millard hopes to escape an unsatisfying
relationship and a stalled career. Faro is an enchanting town, and the
seaside views are enhanced by the company of Nathan Emberlin, a
charismatic younger man. But behind the crumbling facades of Moorish
buildings, Joanna soon realizes, Faro has a seedy underbelly, its
economy compromised by corruption and wartime spoils. And Nathan has an
ulterior motive for seeking her company: he is determined to discover
the truth involving a child’s kidnapping that may have taken place on
this dramatic coastline over two decades ago.
Joanna’s subsequent search leads her to Ian Rylands, an English expat who cryptically insists she will find answers in The Alliance,
a novel written by American Esta Hartford. The book recounts an
American couple’s experience in Portugal during World War II, and their
entanglements both personal and professional with their German enemies.
Only Rylands insists the book isn’t fiction, and as Joanna reads deeper
into The Alliance, she begins to suspect that Esta Hartford’s
story and Nathan Emberlin’s may indeed converge in Faro—where the past
not only casts a long shadow but still exerts a very present danger.
300 Days of Sun is a tale of two stories, told in alternating parts. The story begins in contemporary Portugal where the main character is sort of escaping from her life by taking language courses in Faro and avoiding a boyfriend back home. The alternating story line is built into the story and is part of the mystery that surrounds Nathan, a student in her class. A reporter, Joanna stumbles across a mystery that involves Nathan as well as some missing children that may actually span decades.
As a history teacher and a fan of all things historical, the alternating story lines has never bothered me; in fact, I actually enjoy them and go out of my way to find books that contain them. While I really enjoyed Joanna's story, I actually preferred Esta's as I find everything about WWII fascinating and love reading about it. The events in Portugal, one of the few neutral countries during this time period, definitely had a rich history and many of its stories are yet to be told. I know, for example, that Ian Fleming (creator of James Bond) spent some time there, and the Spanish royal family were exiled in Estoril. I think my biggest disappointment in this novel is that these sections, and there were only three of them, were too short. I also really liked learning about the 1941 windstorm that struck Portugal as it was something I had never heard about so I found it quite interesting. Apparently, in monetary terms today, the damage would have been around five billion dollars.
Joanna's story was quite interesting in the beginning and her search for Nathan's family is something I always enjoy. Searching for newspaper articles, asking questions, exploring areas that may contain clues, talking to people about the past, all up my alley. It's certainly ground that has been covered before, and will probably be covered again, but that's okay. Unfortunately, where I lost interest was in the mysteriousness of Ian Rylands as he was just too cryptic and 'mysterious' for me and for the story. I think the author was trying to add some secrecy, and perhaps some concept of deadliness to the story, and I just felt it didn't quite work. Don't get me wrong, I love crime novels and read them voraciously, but it was jarring to the story and to the setting.
300 Days of Sun is one of those books that started out quite strong for me, but kind of lost me towards the end. I gave it the rating I did because I really enjoyed the author's style of writing as it made me feel like I was right there, and there were some elements that were quite engrossing. I actually liked the historical aspect better than the modern tale, but I also felt like I connected better to Esta than I did to Joanna. I was a bit disappointed with the ending, not because of what happened with Nathan and his family as it was sort of what I was expecting, but more about Joanna as I didn't feel like she developed at all throughout the novel. Besides, I've always thought running away was a bit childish and she didn't seem like she wanted to face her problems. Personally, if you are looking for a light-hearted mystery/romance, and a nice romp through sunny Portugal, then I would recommend this one for you. It definitely had the added affect of adding Portugal higher up my traveling bucket list, and the cover makes me want to go snorkeling right now.