Thirteen Stops Later – Sandra Harris

I thoroughly enjoyed Sandra Harris’ debut novel, Thirteen Stops, with each chapter representing a different character’s story; the characters were all people who travelled on the tram through Dublin. I loved the concept but I was left wanting to know so much more about the individuals stories and so it was with Immeasurable pleasure that I agreed to review this sequel novel when the author contacted me (cue huge fangirl moment on my part!) I enjoyed this novel perhaps even more than the first, if that were at all possible, and felt compelled to write a review worthy of this magnificent read.

Upon picking up this book I was thrilled to discover that not only did this book continue the stories started in the first book, but the characters in each chapter matched those in that previous book. This added to my enjoyment of the author’s approach and I thought it was a very intelligent way to add to the previous stories, with each chapter potentially providing comfort to those similarly afflicted.

Laura’s story is continued in chapter 1. I was disappointed in her – that she was still contacting the married dirtbag that is Paul. I could understand why Laura had her reservations about her Mother’s new relationship, but when it comes down to it, she maybe needs to let her a mum make her own mistakes, but be ready to be there to provide comfort if things do go wrong. I was genuinely stunned at what Laura ended up doing, even if she did feel bad about it. I felt that Laura was being delusional in trying to win married Paul back at the works Christmas party. However much I might not approve of the affairs Laura had, I wouldn’t have wished her any ill and so I was heartily shocked by the end of the chapter, particularly when a new job and new girlfriends had made Laura seem happier with her lot.

It seemed to me that the author did an amazing job of articulating the type of toxic relationships that some women cling onto, with cheating men and if reading this makes one woman realise that their similar relationship is not going anywhere, ever, then she has done an outstanding service to those deluded women.

The second chapter, although devoted to Suzanne, the Sister of Paul’s wife, Barbara, also gave us some snippets of insight into what had happened to some friends form the previous book – ‘intel’ that I jumped upon with glee. The fact that Suzanne was Barbara’s birthing partner made me wonder about Paul and Barbara’s relationship, although we know that she was aware of his affairs, it alluded to Paul’s general hopelessness in a critical situation. I liked the way that loyal Suzanne was so family oriented and ready to help her Sister at a moment’s notice. For the first time I felt myself warning to Barbara; I loved that the wore a Little Mermaid nightie on the labour ward, because her a daughters had chosen it! Paul continued not to impress me with his egotistic attitude; even with his wife in the throes of labour, it’s still ‘all about him’. This chapter also touches on homophobia. I don’t know whether this is more of a thing in Ireland or not – but regardless the topic is, as a I would expect, treated with the utmost understanding and compassion. This second chapter, I thought would provide comfort to those considering IVF or surrogacy, as the author treated the topics with such compassion. However, like the first chapter, it ended in a shocking manner and I started to wonder whether this shock aspect would continue throughout the novel.

The third stop in the book catches up with single Mother Fauve, who seems desperate for a bit of respite; I can certainly empathise with that, as I know many parents will be able to. Having a young baby can seem pretty endless, when you have no support – and I am just talking personally, about being left alone all day with a baby, when I had a supportive Husband coming hone at night. Things were starting to look up for Fauve – until the most terrIble thing happened.

The fourth stop, continued the story of Fauve’s friend Orla and her boyfriend Nathan. To be brutally honest I was partially surprised that Orla and Nathan were still a couple – but only partially. The author has highlighted, in a brave and honest piece of writing, how difficult it can be for woman who are abused (be it verbally or physically) by their partners, to actually follow through with their gut thoughts and leave them. By the end of this stop, it seemed as though a Orla had lost her mind. I couldn’t help but think that this was a cumulative thing; from the way she was treated by her Mother and Stepfather, the way she had looked after her two half Brothers , yet was used by them, and the abuse she had received from Nathan. All of this trauma was topped by fact that her housemate had given birth to a beautiful baby after a one night stand, and the fact that her Brother was asking her for money to fund an abortion for his girlfriend. Something just had to blow, This story was extremely well written and sympathetic towards Orla, despite its shocking content. If I were in Orla’s shoes, I would find comfort from the level of understanding in this piece.

Mick and Donna from stop 5, were a lovely couple and I liked the idea of them getting some good news. I had no doubt in my mind that they would forgive their Son, such were their temperaments. Mick is however struggling with his Son’s revelations and what he has brought home with him and he is also hiding something from Donna. We hear about why Mick gets so upset about his Brother’s death, when they were children. I just hope, for this family’s sake, that Mick can get over his issues, that he can come to terms with Adam’s situation, and that he doesn’t pursue his illicit dalliance any further; he is too nice a chap.

Graeme and Vicky’s story is continued in stop 6. They are both such kind and generous people. Indeed, Vicky describes Graeme as a ‘genuinely decent person’. I felt for Vicky with her dilemma with regard to Andrew’s errant Father. Needless to say, I was thoroughly shocked at Graeme’s Mother’s tactics to try and scare Vicky off. What an awful woman! I did not like her one bit, but I thought she was portrayed in such a believable manner – fantastic writing, yet again! Vicky seemed to have a gift for dealing with situations in appropriate manners, which is exactly what she did with Andrew’s Father. I was so impressed with the way that the author dealt with the situation, and with her empathy towards and understanding of autism. I appreciated the way that this pair were so open and honest with each other, for example Vicky could have kept quiet about meeting up with Andrew’s Father, but instead asked for and received Graeme’s unequivocal support. I felt so sad for Andrew, with regard to Tommy, but the author seemed to know exactly what to do to lift the mood of the book at just the right spot, with the perfect injection of humour, betwixt the sadness.

Carl and Tara’s story in chapter 7, caught me unawares to a certain extent and I found myself re-reading the opening pages of the chapter a couple of times, in order to convince myself that the occurrence really had taken place! It felt like the opening scenes of a Hollywood romcom. This stop was a prime example of how situations can contrast so, dependent on whose outlook you are looking at things from. Neither Carl nor Tara came out of this story well and I felt sympathy for neither of them. I thought that Karen and Carl had been naive and Tara guilty of thinking money can buy you anything. The only person I had any modicum of sympathy for, was Ritchie. I did however feel that the chapter was extremely well written and a great example of how not to judge others.

I was keen to catch up with Jean and Liz’s stories at stop eight, having garnered snippets of positive sounding information about Liz , from various other peoples stories. She had gained a certain level of local notoriety, of a sympathetic nature. Again an example of how we shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover, based on Liz’s story thus far. The scene with the family barbecue seems endearing at first – unless you know the story of Liz so far – then it is heartbreaking. It was however good to see people using writing almost as a form of therapy.

The author very cleverly left tidbits about what had happened to Laura in the previous chapter, further intertwining the two stories. It doesn’t fail to thrill me, the way that Sandra Harris mingles these stories, leaving subtle little breadcrumb trails for readers like me to search out and pounce upon like avid little mice.

The thing I took away most form this chapter however was the acts of friendship between Liz and Jean; simply beautiful.

Oh Jamie, how I wanted to know more about your story, and my wish was achieved in chapter nine. This stop tells of Jamie’s experience of homophobia from within his very own family. how shocking. Frankly I was shocked that Jamie was still part of a couple with the idle Callum! A most unpleasant character in my opinion. I was thoroughly pleased that by the end of the chapter, things were looking a lot more positive for Jamie.

Philippa’s story is continued in chapter ten. This chapter brings shocking news of Shane, Philippa’s Brother-in-law (Nicola’s Husband) Little Kimmie continues to have what seem like supernatural capabilities. They receive further terrible news, when a new addition to the family turns up. The chapter ends on a spooky note.

The story from chapter ten kind of spills over to the following chapter, where we learn more about Philippa and Michael. In the last book Michael sacrificed part of his relationship with Philippa, for his first love, Melissa. Michael comes clean with Philippa, but it makes Kimmie’s actions and drawings seem even more spooky. Things seem to end well for Philippa and a Michael though, so that is good and Kimmie’s amazing foresight seems to save the dah again!

Stop 11 goes back to the story of young Becks, an I was hoping to feel a little less emotional about her this time around. We find Becks busy at work, working on the launch of Melissa’s posthumous book. Becks has had shocking news about her Mother’s disappearance, when she was but 5 years old, so seems to have thrown herself into her work, having dumped the rat formerly known as Barry, too. I thought that what happened between Vic and Becks rather weird, but if it helped her get closure over her Mother’s fate – then so be it! I was so pleased that asks story end with some good fortune, after her rather torrid past. Good on her!

Chapter twelve catches up with Laura again. It’s a bitter pill to swallow (excuse the turn of phrase), that whilst Paul has called the emergency services and saved her life, he hasn’t actually visited her in hospital; nobody has. I was delighted that Laura seemed to banish some of her demons, as well as improve her relationship with her Mother. What a fantastic way for her story to end.

I have got so much out of the way that the different peoples stories interconnect (a bit like a tram network!) that I feel the need to proffer further praise to Sandra Harris. It is truly amazing, the way in which the different tram passengers stories interconnect and then little clues about other stories are casually dropped in various chapters. Sandra Harris must have a brain the size of a planet, to actually remember all the stories in such detail, so as to be able to join them so subtly and seamlessly, with seemingly casual thoughts or comments, offering information about another story. Each passenger has their own different problems, yet Sandra somehow manages to portray each issue with the utmost compassion. She surely can’t possibly have personally suffered at the hands of every one of these issues, yet she never fails to treat each problem with the utmost compassion. Sandra Harris is surely the ultimate empath and I cannot imagine how many women she has helped in some way through her written word.


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