Book Review: 300 Days of Sun
Published By: Harper
Publication Date: April 12, 2016
Page Count: 384
Source: Kindly Provided by Publisher
Audience: Adult - Contemporary, Historical Fiction
My first experience with Deborah Lawrenson's writing was with her novel, The Sea Garden, which I enjoyed immensely. I was excited to spend more time with Lawrenson's writing. This novel, like The Sea Garden, has WWII connections, but also focuses on a more contemporary storyline. I loved this format as it was like reading two novels in one. I also enjoyed looking for the connections that would tie the past and present together.
The contemporary story follows Jo and Nathan, two people who are searching for themselves in sunny coastal Portugal. The pair become friends as they attend a Portuguese language course together, but Jo soon realizes that Nathan has more than studying on his mind. He needs her skills as a journalist to track down information about a sinister figure who may hold the secret to Nathan's past and future. Jo is skeptical of Nathan's claims, at first. It seems far fetched to believe that he was stolen away from Portugal as a child and adopted by a couple in England. However, as the pair dives deeper into research, they soon find that the beautiful country hides a seedy underbelly where children go missing and corruptions reigns. Jo and Nathan must tread lightly or they will find themselves in a world of trouble.
The notion of missing children in Portugal instantly sent my mind back to the case of Madeleine McCann who dominated the news when she disappeared in 2007. I remember watching the coverage of this tragic event as my heart broke for the little girl and her family. I couldn't fathom how something could be possible. For me, it made this novel all the more poignant. While Madeleine's case is never mentioned in the novel, it was hard for my mind not to make connections to that real life event.
The historical story is told through a novel written at the conclusion of WWII by an American woman who is living in Portugal. I had no idea that Portugal had such involvement with the Nazis. While the contemporary characters generally agree that the novel is more fact than fiction, it is not immediately clear how the novel and the events of Faro, Portugal's past are connected to Jo and Nathan's quest. As the story written by Esta Hartford is revealed, my mind began to whir with possibilities of Nathan's connection to everything. The moment when things click into place is bittersweet and slightly shocking.
The mystery of Nathan's true identity dominated my thoughts as I read this one. I kept forming theories and lost myself in the story. There were many twists I didn't see coming.
In addition to a compelling story and the past/present format, I loved the setting of this one. My knowledge of Portugal and its history is severely lacking. Once again Lawrenson has brought to life a locale with such rich details that I long to see it for myself. I could almost feel the sun on my face and smell the ocean breeze as I spent time with the characters. I can also say the last few chapters had my heart racing and my fight or flight instinct flaring.
I highly recommend this one if you're a historical fiction fan who enjoys when the past has connections that impact the present. I love seeing the how the threads between the historical and modern connect to form a larger picture. 300 Days of Sun combines intrigue, history, romance, and murder; finding a stopping point each evening for bed proved to be a difficult feat.
One Last Gripe: The ending kept me from giving this one 5 birdies. I felt like it was ambiguous while I was craving definitive answers.
Favorite Thing About This Book: I enjoyed everything, but loved Esta's novel segments.
First Sentence: I met Nathan Emberlin in Faro, southern Portugal, in August 2014.
Favorite Character: Jo
Least Favorite Character: Terry Jackson
Combining the atmosphere of Jess Walters’ Beautiful Ruins with the intriguing historical backstory of Christina Baker Kline’s The Orphan Train, Deborah Lawrenson’s mesmerizing novel transports readers to a sunny Portuguese town with a shadowy past—where two women, decades apart, are drawn into a dark game of truth and lies that still haunts the shifting sea marshes.
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.