BOOK CLUB: The Good Mother

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The Good Mother is the first novel by Rae Cairns. It draws on her experiences as a Youth Worker in Northern Ireland during the final years of the conflict, which while not a religious war, was waged along religious lines between the Catholics and the Protestants, a period known as The Troubles.

For those not familiar with, or too young to remember, The Troubles ran in Northern Ireland from the late 1960s through to around 1998 and related to the constitutional status of Northern Ireland.  The Unionists (mainly Ulster Protestants) wanted Northern Ireland to remain a part of the United Kingdom, the Irish Nationalists (mainly Irish Catholics) wanted Northern Ireland to cease being a part of the United Kingdom and become part of a United Ireland.

Both sides developed paramilitaries, the Catholics formed the IRA (Provisional Irish Republican Army) and the INLA (Irish National Liberation Army), while the Unionists formed the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) and UDA (Ulster Defence Association).

The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) was perceived to discriminate against the minority Catholics, and the deployment of British Troops to address the escalating tensions between the two sides—while initially welcomed by the minority Catholics—fanned the flames after the event known as Bloody Sunday.

After the ceasefire and peace negotiations were concluded, a group of dissident members of the provisional IRA who disagreed with the end to the conflict broke away to form the Real IRA (RIRA).  In 2012 the Real IRA, Republication Action Against Drugs and some small independent groups came together to form the New IRA, a group dealing out killings, gun and bomb attacks as well as “punishment” beatings and shootings.

This then is the background against which Cairns’ beautifully written book is set.

Sarah Calhoun lives in Sydney Australia, with daughters Sophie, eight, and Ally, twelve, and 16-year-old son Riley, as well as their labrador puppy Fudge.  Despite being divorced from the children’s lawyer father Evan Barker, she has remained friends with him and his new wife Felicity, and they have successfully shared the care of their children.

Riley is a skilled and dedicated youth soccer player. When he is selected as one of only two players from Australia to join the FIFA youth development camp in Dublin Ireland, what should be a time for celebration instead pours ice into Sarah’s heart and brings all her deep-seated fears to the fore.

Sarah has never spoken of her time in Northern Ireland as a youth worker, and what she experienced while there.  Neither has she opened up about her reasons for fleeing the country, or her fears of what may happen if she or any member of her family were to return there.  Instead, she has tried to wrap her family in cotton wool and gone to great lengths to protect them.

Despite the fears swirling through her brain, Sarah decides she can’t stand in the way of something so important to Riley, and so, reluctantly, she decides to sign the paperwork giving him permission to go,

Then, just a month into Riley’s four month stint in Ireland, Sarah’s world begins to crack with the unexpected arrival at her office of Detective Inspector Alec Stone of the Northern Ireland Organised Crime Task Force, a branch of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (previously the Royal Ulster Constabulary—the RUC). 

Stone tells her that he is investigating the murder of Gerry McCann, a young man she was the youth worker for while in Ireland, that she was flagged as a person of interest when she fled Nothern Ireland on the night of Gerry’s death, that he was aware at that time that she was engaged to Michael McNaulty, and Michael and his brother Daniel are the prime suspects for Gerry’s murder. He tells her he tracked her down when Riley went through Customs in Dublin and her name as next of kin red-flagged. 

Then things begin to spiral out of control, first, a Facebook friend request from Daniel McNaughlty, then a huge bunch of red and white roses is delivered to her office, no name but the envelope attached contains a plane ticket in her name to Belfast next week, and a message ‘we need to talk’ and then a man with a West Belfast accent breaks into her house to deliver a message from Daniel checking that she’ll be on the plane to Belfast while implying her children’s safety depended on it.

Sarah finds herself drawn into a web of horror as her past, present and future collide and she tries to protect her children whilst facing the full force of the Real IRA, now headed by Daniel McNaulty, the man Detective Stone is committed to taking down.

This is a powerfully written book that I could not put down (and literally read into the wee hours of the morning).  The characters are entirely believable, in the case of Daniel McNaulty frighteningly so, the Troubles accurately portrayed, as is the dilemma experienced by Sarah as she tries to work out how to deal with the situation in which she is embroiled, how to get Riley away from Ireland safely, all the while not knowing who to trust—yet knowing that one wrong move on her part could end in widespread tragedy. 

Thank you to Beauty and Lace and Rae Cairns for giving me the opportunity to read and review this wonderful debut novel, The Good Mother.  I look forward to reading Cairns’ future works.  Highly recommended 5 Stars.

ISBN: 978 0648 999508

Copy courtesy of Rae Cairns trading as Bandrui Publishing

A selection of our Beauty and Lace Club Members are reading The Good Mother by Rae Cairns. You can read their comments below, or add your own review.

37 thoughts on “BOOK CLUB: The Good Mother

  1. Thank you to Beauty and Lace and Banduri Publishing for the opportunity to read The Good Mother by Rae Cairns.

    This is a fantastic book, suspense, action and a mother that would do anything to keep her family safe. This book is a movie waiting to happen!

    Sarah Calhoun is mother to Riley 16, Ally 12 and Sophie 8 years. Although divorced from Evan Barker they get on well. She has a great job and a wonderful life.

    Riley is chosen to go to Dublin for 4 months to be part of a FIFA Yourh Development Programme.
    A good Mother would be happy and allow her son to go on this opportunity of a life time.
    A good Mother would do what ever it takes to protect and keep her family safe. To keep her family safe Riley should not leave Australia.

    Pressured by Evan and Riley and accused of “ wrapping everyone she loves in cotton wool” , and “your fears should not control Riley’s life”, she reluctantly gives permission.

    Riley is under 18 and Sarah’s name is on his passport.

    Sarah has spent 17 years silent and never sharing her past with Evan… was the only way she thought she could keep them all safe.

    Would anyone still be looking for her after 17 years……
    Yes, they are…….there is a lot of interest in what Sarah was doing on the night Friday July 18th 1997 in Belfast.

    Her worst nightmare begins…….her fears are real…….she has to confront her past and has to travel to Ireland and do what ever it takes to save her family.

    A fantastic , believable, well written and easy to read book, 5 stars.

  2. Her troubled past in Northern Ireland catches up with her, and turns a divorced Sydney mother of three’s quiet suburban life upside down in The Good Mother by Rae Cairns.

    Sarah, the mother of the story, had worked as an aide worker in Northern Ireland, in her youth. It was a turbulent time, and Sarah witnessed some terrible things. Things that prompted her to flee Ireland, things she’d rather forget and which she has kept secret from everyone. However now Sarah’s son Riley is set to attend a soccer camp in Ireland …

    An innocent trip, but it triggers the past to come rushing into the present. Her ex boyfriend’s IRA connections lead an Irish policeman to track her down to give evidence at a murder trial in Dublin. But by returning to right old wrongs Sarah might just lose everything.

    She is forced into a dangerous situation where everyone in her family – from her estranged father and her ex-husband as well as her three children are all put at risk. It is a nightmare ordeal… but never underestimate a mother whose children’s lives are at stake!!

    A well written book full of tension, twists, and some very high stakes, The Good Mother, provides an insightful view into the troubles in Northern Ireland and the impact it has had on families.

  3. What a sensational debut novel from another new Australian crime writer Rae Cairns.
    This book had me hooked from the beginning and it takes you from Australia to Northern Ireland.

    Sarah thought her past was exactly that – in the past but it reared its ugly head when she is required to testify at a trial to convict a known IRA activist for the death of a young man many years ago. Add to this the fact that she reluctantly let her 16 yo son travel to Ireland to participate in a Soccer camp. Will the past also catch up with him.

    This was a fast paced edge of your seat thriller and kept me up until way past my bedtime last night when I had to close the book and finished it off today! I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves a good thriller and especially support Australian crime writers which seem to be coming out of the woodwork in the last few years. Congratulations and thanks to Rae Cairns and Beauty and Lace for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest opinion. It was a pleasure!!

    1. Thanks for this fabulous review, Janine. It means the world to me to hear readers thoughts and feedback! I’m so thrilled you enjoyed the book, although I’m sorry (not sorry) for keeping you up past bedtime.

  4. Sarah is a normal mother, living to protect and take care of her children. Riley, her son, is a talented soccer player who has been selected to join the FIFA youth development cam in Dublin. Far away from their home in Australia.
    Sarah, reluctantly gives permission for Riley to attend after his father, who is divorced from Sarah, had given permission. Will this backfire on Sarah.
    Sarah has a past in Northern Ireland where she worked as a youth worker. After an incident she fled Ireland.
    This past was about to catchup with her as she is seen as a per of interest in a murder investigation in Ireland. How did they find Sarah?
    Sarah does go back to Ireland but needs-to protect her son while he is there. She is caught up in the Real IRA………a surreal world!!
    Can she protect herself and more importantly her children? As her past has caught up with her who can she trust!!!!
    A very compelling novel.

  5. Thank you for allowing me to read this wonderful story. It was not something I would have chosen but I was hooked straight away.
    Sarah the main character thinks she has escaped from some terrible events in Ireland in the past but now that her son is to attend a soccer camp there, all her fears come back to haunt her. It seems she hasn’t escaped her past and it’s been keeping an eye on her all the time.
    Will Sarah and her son survive what is still happening there?

    1. Thank you Carla for reading and taking the time to review The Good Mother, especially as it would not be your usual choice. I’m so happy it hooked you in!

  6. Thank you Beauty and Lace,
    Rae Cairns and Marcia Batton for the opportunity to read and review “The Good Mother.”

    This book grabbed me by the throat and did not let go, I was hoarse for the duration of the story, what a ride.

    I didn’t think it was possible to ramp it up a notch, how wrong could I be, it just kept going and going until I was left breathless and balancing on a precipice.

    This story was thrilling, not knowing if Sarah would even survive and the lengths Sarah went to as a mother to keep her family safe, knew no bounds, and nothing was out of the question.

    I’m not sure if I’ve ever disliked a character as much as Daniel,
    I could not stand him, and visibly flinched each time I came across his name, he is definately off my Christmas card list.

    The story is intercontinental, crisscrossing from freezing cold, drab and dreary Dublin and Belfast Ireland to sunny rural Australia.

    Never a truer word spoken that sometimes
    “The past will come back to haunt you.”

    For a debut novel, I cannot recommend this book highly enough, it’s a cracking read,
    I can’t wait for Rae’s next book.

    1. Thank you so much for reading The Good Mother, Kathy, and for taking the time to write this great review. I loved reading your thoughts and feedback and truly appreciate your recommendation to other readers.

  7. I was so thrilled to receive my ARC copy of The Good Mother. The extra touches including being brilliantly wrapped, signed and with ‘exhibit’ photos was a true delight. This is a debut crime fiction novel from Australian author Rae Cairns.

    The novel was captivating and brushes on themes from infamous Northern Ireland conflict. The main character Sarah is a protective mother of three children. In her previous work in the early 90s she worked as an Aid worker during The Troubles. Fast forward to present day, Sarah’s past comes back with vengeance when her son gets a once in a lifetime opportunity cross continent. Sarah is faced with an impossible choice and the result could have dire consequences to her loved ones and many others.

    I am honored to recommend this book and wish Rae Cairns all the best in her writing career I am sure she will do remarkably well.

    Thank you to Beauty and Lace Book Club and Bandrui Publishing for the reading and reviewing opportunity.

  8. Thank you Beauty and Lace for the chance to review The Good Mother by Rae Cairns. Rae is an Australian author, it is always great to read a book by an Australian author and the book did not disappoint.

    The novel takes you from Australia to Northern Ireland. Sarah Calhoun is a suburban Mum living in Australia whose life is turned upside down when her son Riley, an amazing soccer player is chosen to go join FIFA youth in Dublin. It now means Sarah must face the past she fled from years ago. Sarah has many secrets from her past from her time living overseas in Belfast where she was working as an aid worker. She fled then but has no choice but to go back and protect her son.

    Sarah is returning to testify at a murder trial of an IRA member who the police have been trying to charge for a long time. I loved this book and was hooked from the first page. Any mother could relate Sarah trying to go to the other side of the world to protect her son. I cannot wait for Raes’ next book and I recommend this book to everyone who loves a great thriller.

  9. Thank you @beautyandlacemag and @bandruipublishing for supplying this month’s book, The Good Mother, by Rae Cairns @raecairnswrites

    Goodness gracious, this book is going to be a best seller.

    From the moment I opened the mail parcel I knew this was going to be a rollercoaster ride. The immaculate presentation of the product set the scene for a complex, intricate, surprising and shocking story. It is exquisitely told with easy to read narrative and character introductions.
    This tale is very relatable to any mother of a teenage boy. Suspicion of his first girlfriend causes a rift between mother and son. Fighting for her love of her children, Sarah, travels to Belfast to watch over her son after he is accepted into a school international soccer tour. Threats from her past are creeping up too quickly and she has to not only watch over, but actively protect her son.
    Memories of that time flood back to her, resulting in sometimes growing conviction to action, and other times reliving fear.

    An unexpected u-turn in events heightens the suspense and intrigue. Rae’s descriptions are so detailed, so vivid, it was like watching a movie. For example, a court room scene was elegantly presented with palpable emotional tension.

    Please someone translate this book into a film?


    1. Thank you for taking the time time to read The Good Mother and to write this wonderful review, Luisa. I’m so thrilled you enjoyed the book. I’d love to see it made into a movie too, especially to see who the director would cast in the leads!

  10. Thank you Beauty and Lace and Rae Cairns for the book to read.

    Rae Cairns is a debut author to look out for.

    The Good Mother would have to be included in one of my favourite books for 2020.

    Love, loss, betrayal, fighting for life and moving forward. All and more are worked into the most thrilling story.

    It is a story about Sarah Calhoun going about her day to day life in Australia when her past comes pack to find her. Sarah tried to escape the memories of Belfast, the good and the bad, but some memories just won’t go away.
    Returning to Belfast to testify at a murder trial is just the beginning of her battle.
    With so many twists and turns and plenty of action.

    This book shows how great a love a mother has for her family and what lengths she will go to to protect them. It’s about standing up for what’s right and believing in yourself.
    So cleverly written and so engrossing this is an ‘edge of your seat’, ‘can’t put it down’ book.

  11. This book is an amazing journey! What a great debut- it’s an interesting take between drama and action and the day to day of motherhood. It had me on the edge of my seat as I was eager to read on and find out what came next! Great read and looking forward to seeing what Rae Cairns does next!

  12. Mumma’s got secrets! Loved that this book highlights the fact mothers have pasts before they had kids! Suspenseful well written and kept you guessing.
    Mumma’s will do anything to keep their cubs safe! Such a great book very much enjoyed it. Thankyou beauty and lace

  13. Thank you Beauty & Lace club & Rae Cairns for the opportunity to read to this book. Loved the way it was delivered with a note from Rae & the photos too.

    Oh my Gosh, what a trully powerful book. I loved it. so well written & I couldn’t put it down. One of the best books I have read in a while. When I finished reading the book I immediately thought this would make a great movie.

    Definetly add the one to your reading pile

  14. WOW I loved this book so much. I grew up hearing about the IRA. It was a scary time.
    I love how as a mother Sarah’s past had made her the mother she is! Fighting for her family no matter what. Really fantastic read I recommend it to everyone. Thank you for the chance to read it xx

  15. Thank you to Beauty and Lace and Banduri Publishing for the opportunity to read The Good Mother by Rae Cairns.

    A fantastic debut novel. I couldn’t put this down once I started. I was on the edge of my seat as I read to find out what came next.

    Its great how this portrays that mum’s have a past before kids and we will do anything to protect our babies.

  16. This was a wonderful and intriguing read! I love the way Rae Cairns developed the characters and you really felt something for them, whether it be good or bad, you just couldn’t help it!
    Personally when the story reached Ireland, I began thinking that Sarah was a nutter -the extremes she was going to – but for the first time in a long time while reading, I found myself wondering how I would handle the situation she was in. Usually I can just read an immerse myself, but here the author tugged at my emotions perfectly to make me question what I would do. Would I do the same thing?
    Twists and turns you would not expect leave you wanting more and keen to keep reading!
    Thank you Beauty and Lace for the opportunity to read this, and thank you Rae Cairns for this amazing novel and the beautiful touches with the cards, photos and packaging!!

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful review, Amanda. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me that you felt for all the characters, and that Sarah’s decisions made you question what you would do under the same circumstances. I’m glad you enjoyed the packaging too!

  17. I received a copy of this book in return for my honest review. Unfortunately, as it was an eBook it somehow got lost in my kindle so I got to it late, but once I found it again it did not get put down (who needs sleep right?!?)! It’s one of those books that grabs you right from the first sentence and just doesn’t let go. It’s a fantastic story and the author does a great job in having the main character’s past and present collide while intertwining it in a terrible time in modern history. Thank you Bandrui Publishing, Rae Cairns and Beauty & Lace for the chance to read this book. I can’t wait for Rae’s next book – hopefully it won’t be too long!

  18. Thank you Marcia, for the time and effort you put into your incredibly detailed and thoughtful review. I can’t tell you how much it meant to me when I read your feedback. I’ve even directed people to your review when they want a little more history behind The Troubles. Thank you for everything!

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