300 Days of Summer
By: Deborah Lawrenson
Format/Source: eBook; my purchase
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.
I picked this book up last summer but didn’t get around to reading it right away. I guess it was because the premise of the book, the book title, and the cover just screamed “Summer read!” So I waited until this summer rolled in to read it. But I suppose I also stalled because I read her debut novel, The Lantern (review) and wasn’t terribly blown away like I thought I would be so I was a bit hesitant starting this book.
Okay, so I was a bit concerned at first–I thought the first two chapters or so moved pretty slow, and I didn’t care for the characters or why they were there in Faro, Portugal (a very bad sign). But then my interest finally piqued when the mystery came to the fore and Nathan’s ulterior motives emerged. I was especially interested in the 1940s The Alliance book that Joanna read in parts and that appears staggared throughout the novel–in fact, I was more interested that storyline early on and was bummed out when the plot went back to the present, lol. But the deeper Joanna digs into the story and the more emerges about the corruption and nefariousness happening underground, the more interesting it go, so the present storyline picked up as well. I was interested in Portugal’s situation during World War Two; like Spain, it was clearly going through its own brand of dictatorship and the secret police.
While I was pretty much glued to the book wondering whether Joanna and Nathan will get to the bottom of the mystery, I thought the time jumps in both storylines were pretty sudden and, in the case of the epilogue, totally rushed the momentum of the ending. I would’ve let it slide as I had enjoyed the mystery and the intrigue but the jumps were just so jarring, it totally threw me off the moment and hence why this book ended up as a 3 instead of a 4. Also, I was getting a bit annoyed early on in the book when Joanna kept describing Nathan as the “beautiful broken boy.” Mentioning it the first time was fine, but three or four more times after that was one repetition too many.
Despite of these elements, I enjoyed reading 300 Days of Sun, it definitely made for a good summer read and had me glued to my Kobo after the plot starts picking up and the mystery is presented. And now I’m also especially keen to travel to Portugal one of these days! 😀