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Mercy House

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A powerful debut novel of a refuge in Brooklyn for women in trouble—and the one woman who will risk all to protect them.

In the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn stands a century-old row house presided over by renegade, silver-haired Sister Evelyn. Gruff and indomitable on the surface, warm and wry underneath, Evelyn and her fellow sisters makes Mercy House a safe haven for the abused and abandoned.

Women like Lucia, who arrives in the dead of night; Mei-Li, the Chinese and Russian house veteran; Desiree, a loud and proud prostitute; Esther, a Haitian immigrant and aspiring collegiate; and Katrina, knitter of lumpy scarves… all of them know what it’s like to be broken by men.

Little daunts Evelyn, until she receives word that Bishop Robert Hawkins is coming to investigate Mercy House and the nuns, whose secret efforts to help the women in ways forbidden by the Church may be uncovered. But Evelyn has secrets too, dark enough to threaten everything she has built.

Evelyn will do anything to protect Mercy House and the vibrant, diverse women it serves—confront gang members, challenge her beliefs, even face her past. As she fights to defend all that she loves, she discovers the extraordinary power of mercy and the grace it grants, not just to those who receive it, but to those strong enough to bestow it.

354 pages, Paperback

First published February 11, 2020

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About the author

Alena Dillon

5 books341 followers
Alena Dillon is the author of Mercy House, The Happiest Girl in the World, My Body Is A Big Fat Temple, and Eyes Turned Skyward. Alena lives with her family on the north shore of Boston.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 772 reviews
Profile Image for Nilufer Ozmekik.
2,064 reviews38k followers
August 1, 2021
Wow! What an unconventional, soul crashing, vivid journey!

This is an incredible story about women’s unity and solidarity for fighting against abandonment, physical and mental abuse, harm, humiliation, neglecting. I enjoy the characters of this amazing house opening to their doors to those brave women suffered more than they could stand and who are adamant to leave their painful memories and wounded pasts behind, forming great friendships with each other.

I know that too many readers are ready to judge the book because of its contentious religious and political opinions because it gives us real questioning approach and addressing to the controversies that Catholic Church faces lately (when Spotlight won the best movie Oscar, those controversies were started to get discussed at so many platforms.) This story also discusses mistreatments to the nuns and evolution of Catholic Church throughout the years. So yes, we have so many heavy stuffs on our plate to absorb. If you need a fast and softer reading, you got the wrong book. Pick another one quickly.
And of course the parts about the inhabitants of the house’s back stories are also heart wrecking and
blood freezing. The sexual assault and domestic violence those women endured are told more realistic and harsher than I expected. So don’t expect to read some emotional, tear jerker sisterhood story. The women’s lives are shaking us to the cores and forcing us seeing wild and ugly face of abuse.
I didn’t question the book’s approach to the political and religious matters. I only focused on women’s stories who found themselves trapped in their lives and trying their best to gather their strength to stop to be physically and mentally harmed. They didn’t want to live like victims anymore. They wanted to build new lives for themselves.

And of course I loved sister Evelyn, tough cookie, brave, determined, witty, caring woman who is doing her best to fight against the inquisition kind of investigation conducted by Catholic Church. When assigned priest arrives to Mercy House to conduct his investigation, he startles when he meets with Evelyn. We understand that Evelyn has a history with this man which makes things more complicated and put her inappropriately hard situation. She needs to protect those women who trust her and use her own power to prevent the house’s shutting down. But she also keeps secret and she needs to protect her own self. That’s our story’s CATCH 22 part.

Overall: Writing is fast paced, captivating, intriguing.

Characters are easy to empathize with.

The controversial, compelling, brave and surprising approach is also bringing new soul and new realistic perspective makes us question our own beliefs and life views.

The ending was not powerful as I expected. I could say only “meh, okay, foreseeable!” But it still concluded appropriately because from the beginning of the book, the author gives us enough clues how she will end this story. So we’d better buy this.

I gave 3.5 stars and again rounded up to 4 because of the author’s bravery and straightforwardness.
Special thanks to Netgalley and HarperCollins /William Morrow Paperback for sharing this powerful book’s ARC COPY with me in exchange my honest review.
Profile Image for Meredith (Slowly Catching Up).
770 reviews12.1k followers
January 12, 2020
Compulsively Readable!

Mercy House is a powerful story about three nuns who run a shelter for victims of domestic violence.


Nuns Sister Evelyn, Sister Josphine, and Sister Maria run Mercy House, a refuge for women who have suffered horrific physical, emotional, and sexual abuse at the hands of their partners, parents, and guardians. To help these women, the three nuns act in ways that go against the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Sister Evelyn is at the forefront of this story. In her role as protectress, she has taken down muggers, naysayers, and violent men in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Brooklyn. However, there is one man who incites fear in Sister Evelyn and that is Bishop Hawkins, who has come to investigate the happenings of Mercy House. Evelyn must confront this powerful man to protect the women she has come to deeply care for. To do so, she must face her past and come to terms with her dark secrets.

Sister Evelyn is the primary narrator, but the reader also gets some chapters from each of the current residents of Mercy House. I love Sister Evelyn--she is a wise-cracking, no-nonsense, badass 69-year-old nun!

Some areas might make this hard to read for some readers. There are parts of this book that detail sexual and physical abuse. A good portion of this book revolves around the Catholic Church and the Vatican. While this book heavily critiques the Catholic Church/Vatican, it does not critique Catholicism. Some other areas might ruffle certain political beliefs and/or personal values.

This is a refreshing and captivating read! Once I picked this book up, I couldn’t put it down. I found Sister Evelyn to be quite an entertaining character. She had me laughing out loud. At the same time, her emotions and struggles with her past were palpable. I got quite emotional and teary-eyed when she finally shared her story. Her character is well-developed, but I wish the other characters who play major roles could have been fleshed out a little more. I also wish the ending was a little stronger and that the reader got to see the aftermath of Sister Evelyn’s revelation.

Mercy House is Alena Dillon’s debut and she offers an insightful look into the life of nuns in the 21st century. She has a knack for writing strong, witty, and intelligent female characters. I look forward to reading more from her in the future.

I received a copy of this book from a Goodreads giveaway!

May 5, 2020
4 stars!

Informative and eye-opening. Heart warming and heart breaking.

Mercy House is a women’s shelter in downtown Brooklyn run by three vivacious nuns. The shelter provides a safe place for victims of domestic abuse to flee their from their dangerous situations. Sister Evelyn, one of the founders of the shelter, is the main character of this story whose personality had me surprised and giggling in each chapter. Her no-nonsense, tell-it-how-it-is attitude helps her navigate the rough and rundown neighbourhood streets while reaching as many of those in need as possible.

The Sisters at Mercy House offer their guests a variety of support and therapies, some of which don’t align with the Catholic religion. When the Sisters are informed of a scheduled visit from Bishop Hawkins, they worry about what he might discover among their unconventional records. Unknown to everyone, Sister Evelyn has a dark history with Bishop Hawkins that she longs to keep hidden and with his upcoming visit, she is concerned about the future of Mercy House.

A remarkable debut novel! I enjoyed the writing and found the story flowed and unfolded smoothly. It kept me intrigued from start to finish. The characters were unique and loveable — Sister Evelyn is a stand out character who I loved rooting for.

There were a few plot points that felt overdone, including the ending that tied up a little too neatly for me, however, I really enjoyed following Sister Evelyn’s personal growth journey.

This may be a sensitive novel for those who live a strict Catholic lifestyle. There are many scenarios in which the nuns help victims in ways that would not be embraced by their religion, but they feel is in the best interest of the victim at the time. There are also several references to crimes committed and then hidden within the Catholic church. None of these scenarios were a complete shock to me, and although the author presented them in a respectable manner, they were uncomfortable to read.

Overall, an excellent debut novel that I would recommend. I look forward to seeing what this author comes out with next! Side note: I love this cover!

Thank you to Edelweiss for my review copy!
Profile Image for Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader.
2,050 reviews30k followers
February 14, 2020
Sister Evelyn runs Mercy House, a safe haven for abused women. She’s tough as nails for all appearances, but she has a warmth and heart of gold when it comes to women under her care.

Bishop Hawkins is scheduled to visit Mercy House, and the sisters are worried he may find out the extra ways they have helped the women, as in ways that are not allowed by the church.

Sister Evelyn is at the heart of Mercy House, and she will use all her might to protect and serve it. I loved her character. She was witty and had a charm and vulnerability about her that made her so relatable. I think Alena Dillon did an amazing job writing about strong women.

Overall, I enjoyed my time spent and Mercy House and within the pages of this story. It reminded me of a personal experience I had in high school when I volunteered for two years in a women’s shelter. The author’s writing took me right back to that time and place.

Trigger warnings: rape and assault.

I received a complimentary copy.

Many of my reviews can also be found on my blog: www.jennifertarheelreader.com and instagram: www.instagram.com/tarheelreader
Profile Image for Nursebookie.
1,945 reviews300 followers
March 15, 2020
Mercy House by Alena Dillon

What an amazing story and an amazing debut by Alena Dillon.

Jumping into this book, I was not sure I would be interested in reading about the Catholic Church and the religious cover up as part of its dark history. However, I was completely wrong. I loved the story of a renegade and badass nun unlike those I have had in my parochial school.

Sister Evelyn, our protagonist and once a nurse, runs the Mercy House, located in Brooklyn, a safe haven for the abused and mistreated women with nowhere to go. Along with Sister Maria and Sister Josephine, they will go to lengths to protect those under their care. Sister Evelyn’s father placed her in the convent as a promise to God for sparing his son from death. Though this was not Evelyn’s choice, she accepted being a nun to please and gain her father’s good graces.

The Mercy House is under scrutiny and is set to be visited by Bishop Hawkins who shares a dark history with Evelyn. The sisters’ unconventional methods were put into question by the church and leads to Sister Evelyn’s position within the Catholic Church.

Dillon’s gift is writing these formidable characters that were amazing - from the sisters and the residents of Mercy House, you will find an attachment for them and grow to love them. The story moved fast and the plot grips you so much that you have to know what will happen next.

Sister Evelyn truly is an unlikely heroine you will love! She does not conform, is lead by her heart and common sense, not outdated rules created by men in one of the largest institutions in the world, and she is loving, forgiving and for the lack of a better word, a Badass Nun!

I highly recommend this book for its amazing storyline, easy to read, great dialogue, strong women, and puts face front the history of abuse and sexism in the Catholic Church in a way that is not preachy but thoughtful and heart warming.
Profile Image for DJ Sakata.
3,005 reviews1,736 followers
February 23, 2020
Favorite Quotes:

Ever since Evelyn entered the convent fifty years ago and was required to rise with the sun, she worshipped sleep like it was a false god.

She’d never been to Rome, she’d never met the current Pontiff, and she had virtually no desire to do so. Pope Benedict XVI wore red velvet capes with ermine fur trim. He commissioned his own cologne, which Evelyn called Pope-pourri. He was chauffeured around in a Mercedes… That lavish lifestyle bore little resemblance to her experience in Bedford-Stuyvesant…

She spread her lips into a smile so artificial it insulted her cheeks.

The evangelical minister Pat Robertson said Haitians are paying for their sins with that 7.0 magnitude quake. I am terrified that he is right. Sister Evelyn came downstairs in the middle of the night and found me in the living room rewatching clips of Pat Robertson,… “Don’t you listen to that giant-eared moron. He’s equal parts hate and insanity,” she said.

Desiree’s current johns were low-income, most surviving on government subsidies. She aspired to move up the ranks and become a high-class call girl, a corporate lady of the night, from streetwalker to Wall Street. You couldn’t claim Desiree wasn’t ambitious.

“I’m like a Cadillac. This ride is built for comfort.” Desiree swiveled her hips and then took a comically large bite of her sandwich. “More like a Lincoln Town Car. Room for the whole family,” Lucia said and slapped Desiree’s backside.


My Review:

My heart was seriously bruised and battered while reading this highly evocative and stunningly crafted tale of an elderly hard-working yet disillusioned nun. She had been repeatedly sexually abused by a priest as a novice and never told anyone, now fifty years later he was the bishop who was sent to investigate and interrogate with the singular purpose of closing down her abused women’s shelter. Oh, the irony. And I do loves me some clever irony. This was my first exposure to the brilliant wordcraft of Alena Dillon and I was quickly caught up in her mesmerizing and powerful word voodoo and sucked into a heart-squeezing vortex that transported me to a run-down dwelling with an angel knocker on Mercy Street in Brooklyn, New York. I inhabited that residence with an oddly and uniquely compelling hodgepodge of residents, each with a troubling and heartbreaking past as well as an equally challenging present.

The storylines were gripping and taut with tension, frustration, disheartening circumstances, despair, and eye-opening revelations. I was continually struck by the quality and perceptiveness of the writing, which was staggeringly emotive, skillfully assembled, and laced with insightful observations and descriptions of the various types of pain – body, mental, emotional, and of the psyche. I grew to appreciate each of these complicated women, especially the mouthy ones. And going forward, I will never look at a can of Lysol the same way ever again.
Profile Image for Kate Quinn.
Author 32 books21.3k followers
August 14, 2021
Intensely moving and poignant--this one will stay with me!
Profile Image for Elizabeth of Silver's Reviews.
1,030 reviews1,357 followers
February 10, 2020
Evelyn was never wanted. Her father even bargained with God to bring his son home from the war, and he would put Evelyn in a convent. Evelyn's brother did come home, and she did go to the convent.

Her time in the convent wasn't pleasant. Evelyn saw and endured unpleasant things.

After a few years, she and a few of her fellow nuns opened a shelter in Brooklyn that housed girls suffering from domestic abuse and abandonment.

The red door with the angel knocker was a welcome refuge for these girls.

This refuge is threatened when one of the bishops from Evelyn's past who holds a grudge against her arrives to see exactly what they do at the women's shelter and threatens to shut it down.

We follow Evelyn as she worries about the fate of the house and about the girls inside....what if they say the wrong thing while Father Hawkins is interviewing them? How will she keep them safe and keep Mercy House open if he finds damning evidence whether real or made up?

Evelyn was a very strong, feisty, but sad woman who would do or say anything to protect the girls she was helping. I really liked her.

Sister Maria and Sister Josephine were very likeable.

The girls at the home were rough but likeable.

Bishop Hawkins was despicable.

Be aware that there are some upsetting and coarse situations addressed in MERCY HOUSE, but it was an educational read and one that will be enjoyed by women's fiction fans. Historical fiction fans will also enjoy this book.

Well written with authentic characters. 5/5

This book was given to me by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Fictionophile .
980 reviews321 followers
January 30, 2020
Mercy House, a women's shelter in Brooklyn, is run by three aging nuns. It opens its doors to all manner of woman, regardless of religion, race, or bias. It gives succor to women who have been abused, either mentally or emotionally by the very people who are supposed to love them...

Sister Evelyn - our protagonist, is sixty-nine years old. A nun for fifty years, she was essentially abandoned to the convent at a tender age by her Irish-American family. When still a novice, Evelyn suffered repeated rape by one of the priests she had pledged to 'obey'. She was a nursing nun for years and she has seen many changes over the years. She went from wearing a full 'habit' to now wearing jeans, sweatshirts, and ball caps. Now, many decades later, she is feisty, resourceful, crusty, and resiliently strong for the women who seek out her aid. She approaches life with courage and a sarcastic wit.

Sister Maria - practices Reiki with the residents of Mercy House. She has a sweet tooth, likes to play online poker, and is a fan of paperback romances. She loves to bake and it is her job to counsel the residents and do some of the housework.

Sister Josephine - tall and thin with perfect posture, she wears long skirts and loose cardigans. Sister Josephine is an academic and philosopher who was instrumental in the setting up of Mercy House. She works as a fund-raiser and applies for grants to support Mercy House.

The three nuns are partners, friends, and 'sisters' in the wider meaning of the word.

MY THOUGHTS

Sister Evelyn is a character that I will remember for some time. Her strength, her courage, her stamina, and even her weaknesses all came together to make her memorable.

The part gritty, part gentrified neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, New York was described vividly. It's multicultural inhabitants represent many walks of life, many races, and many social classes.

Under the guise of an engrossing fictional story, I learned about the 'nun-quisition' a real series of events that took place not so long ago. I learned more about the corrupt practices of some members of the Catholic Church.

Though "Mercy House" cannot be pigeon-holed into any specific genre, I found it to be a page-turner in its own right. It was the vibrancy of the characters and the absorbing story that retained my avid interest throughout. It showcased how we all write our own narrative of events - though that narrative might differ greatly from the memory/viewpoint of others directly involved. A novel with themes of hope and the uselessness of holding grudges.

Highly recommended to readers who admire strong characters in a skillfully written story, whatever their religion. A laudable novel that deserves a wide readership.
Profile Image for Lisa.
605 reviews226 followers
January 26, 2020
Mercy House


A wrenching but hopeful story of women seeking shelter from abuse and the unconventional nun that ministers to them.

⭐️⭐️⭐️

SUMMARY
MERCY HOUSE is story about Sister Evelyn, a feisty feminist nun who runs a shelter for abused women in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn. When the Vatican sends Bishop Robert Hawkins to investigate American religious sisters as part of the Apostolic Visitation, convinced they are breaking Catholic doctrine, Sister Evelyn is distressed. When the Bishop shows up early at Mercy House she is more than frazzled. Sister Evelyn had been sexually assaulted as a young novice by this very bishop conducting the investigation. She had told no one of this abuse. She is now forced to appeal to her assailant, and hide the forbidden practices of her shelter—including helping women obtain divorce, birth control, and abortions—all to protect the diverse and vibrant individuals under her care.

REVIEW
MERCY HOUSE is a wrenching tale involving a unconventional nun, a malicious bishop and a colorful group of abused women who seek shelter from the storm that is their life. The story is intriguing, but as a Catholic, I struggled with the authenticity of a few elements of story. The writing and the character development were both good.

I particularly liked Sister Evelyn’s flawed character. The story showed both her vulnerability, as well as her fierceness in protecting the women at Mercy House. I loved the part where she uses a can of Lysol and a lighter, to fend off a gang leader with a Glock. Her feistiness, creativity and courage were admirable. The backstories of the women staying in Mercy House—Lucia, Katrina, Desiree, Esther and Mei-LI—were vivid and heartbreaking and their ultimate camaraderie was inspiring.

Bishop Hawkins, on the other hand was so virulently evil, it was almost comical, particularly when he searched the bedrooms of the residents of Mercy House and gleefully confiscated all manner of paraphernalia to support his investigation.

I searched for and would have loved to read an author note or an interview with the author to find out more about her inspiration for the story, and her research. MERCY HOUSE is author ALENA DILLION’s debut novel. She has also written a humor collection I Thought We Agreed to Pee in the Ocean published in 2015. She teaches creative writing at Endicott College and St. Joseph’s College and lives on the beautiful north shore of Boston.

Thanks to Edelweiss for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Publisher HarperCollins
Published February 12, 2020
Review www.bluestockingreviews.com
Profile Image for Kristina.
3,354 reviews61 followers
February 8, 2020
Mercy House by Alena Dillon is not what I expected. The three nuns who run Mercy House are spunky and untraditional especially Sister Evelyn. I like that they are helping abused women. They work with the women to help them regain their confidence and begin a new life away from their abusers. The residents of Mercy House are diverse and colorful. Sister Evelyn is the primary narrator of the story with chapters featuring each of the girls living at Mercy House. Sister Evelyn is sixty-nine years old and her body is feeling its age (aches and pains). She is a no-nonsense type of woman who will protect the women under her care. Sister Evelyn is a familiar figure in her neighborhood where she a network of informants and does what she can to improve situations. What the women have endured including Sister Evelyn is detailed in the book. It may be hard for some people to read the details of the abuse. There is also a substantial amount of foul language (even the nuns use it). There is a significant focus on the Catholic Church and the injustices within it. It does not critique the faith, but how things are handled. The apostolic visitation mentioned in the book truly happened in the United States. The book is trying to show that while the Church is focusing on the sisters who do good work (though not always following Church doctrine), it should take a hard look at the priests and other church officials who commit terrible crimes. Mercy House contains good writing with a cast of unique characters. The detailed descriptions provide visual imagery, but they do slow down the pacing of the story. There is a lot going on in the book. I wish Mercy House had been about the three sisters, Mercy House and the women they helped. Mercy House is a graphic novel that did not appeal to me. Bishop Hawkins is a malicious man who descriptions seems almost a caricature. Unfortunately, I am sure that there are men like Bishop Hawkins in the Catholic Church. I am fortunate to have a kindly bishop overseeing my diocese. I felt like that author was picking on the Catholic Church. Events that are depicted in the book do happen and it is terrible. They should not be hidden or swept under the rug. But I read fiction to get away from the news and real life. The book contains a note from the author on her inspiration for Mercy House, an interview with Sister Suzanne Franck of St. Joseph’s College, and book discussion questions. Mercy House is not my type of book, but many others do find it compelling. Mercy House has a beastly bishop, a smart cracking sister, alarming abuse, sinful situations, and hair raising hijinks.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
1,058 reviews65 followers
February 9, 2020
4.5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Mercy house was place of refuge, a place of healing for broken girls. I saw an inside glimpse of the faithful ministry of nuns. They had gone through years of change and were committed to staying the course helping anyone who came to their door. They were brave, determined and not perfect. It was refreshing. It was also brutal and unfair. Life is like that isn’t it?
Some people will think this book is about the Catholic Church, but it was about abuse to women. And it also was about shame, fear and guilt. Women trying to learn how to live with it. And hopefully heal from it and being brave enough to tell someone you trust what happened.
I also experienced this in my life and still suffers after all this time. I’ve been talking openly about it for a couple of years now and I’ve received healing because of it. It still hurts me but it doesn’t control me anymore.
I thought this book was excellent. And I highly recommend it. It isn’t a light read but it necessary for us to understand the depth of abuse that’s still happening today. And how wonderful it is that there are people willing to meet you where you are. Willing to take a chance on you and listen to your story.

This was a NETGALLEY gift. And I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Profile Image for Karen M.
583 reviews9 followers
January 17, 2020
I know of someone who started to read the same ebook and she chose not to continue to read because she said she could see where the book was going, bashing the Catholic Church. I don’t feel the same and I wish she had finished the book.

I think this a book that each person who reads it will have a range of reactions and emotions because this is a story of tragedy and hope, secrets and how they damage those who hold them, how mistakes follow you through life and continue to affect you. It is also how adversity can make you stronger and smarter and give you a desire for a better future.

Troubled young women and a nun who reaches out to help them in whatever way they need. Putting the needs of these girls before the Church’s beliefs is at the center of what occurs.

I read this book in two days because I could not put it down. It is a powerful story with sharply defined characters. I congratulate the author on writing such a significant book.

Thank you to HarperCollins Publishers for the ebook ARC you so kindly offered in exchange for an unbiased review.
Profile Image for Susan - on semi hiatus.
410 reviews109 followers
Read
February 23, 2020
DNF at approximately 30%. No Rating.

This was too political for me. Although I was intrigued, this book was too much about the Catholic Church and had an obvious message.
Profile Image for Carla.
5,710 reviews122 followers
February 21, 2020
This book was one that I could not put down. As another reviewer put it, "it was compulsively readable". Once I started reading about Sister Evelyn and the residents of Mercy House, I wanted to know what was going to happen to these ladies.

Mercy House is a women's shelter in Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn, It is run by three aging nuns, Sister Evelyn, Sister Maria and Sister Josephine, each of them bringing something different to the operation of the Home. It is a shelter that accepts abused women, whether physical, mental or emotional victims. All women no matter what religion, race or background they bring with them. They do not always follow Catholic Teaching and Doctrines, which brings them under fire during the "Nunquisition". Enter Bishop Hawkins, the man sent to investigate Mercy House. He has a past with Evelyn and will not be happy until he shuts Mercy House down.

Sister Evelyn is at the main character in this story. She is a feisty, no-nonsense, wise-cracking, protectress. She has faced down muggers, naysayers, and violent men while protecting her residents. The only man she has not faced down is Bishop Hawkins. He abused her while she was a novitiate and made her feel that she was the one in the wrong as she was the temptress. It is now time for Evelyn to confront this powerful man and determine what she is willing to do to protect the women she cares about. The secondary cast was very strong. The residents, the other nuns, the community members and even her family members all add wonderful colour and detail to the story.

The difficult part for some people to read or listen to will be the sexual and physical abuse that is described both involving the priesthood and that directed at the young female residents. It is a necessary part of the story, but not gratuitous. A good portion of this book revolves around the Catholic Church and the Vatican, specifically abuse of children and young women that is brushed under the rug. This has been widely reported in the newspaper over the last decade, and I am happy to say that it is being dealt with. Like in every profession, there are bad apples, and there are some inthe priesthood. This book is very critical of those men, not Catholicism in general. Overall, Mercy House was a compelling read. I learned about some history around the Catholic church as well as becoming emotionally involved with the lives of the residents of Mercy House. This is a gritty story, that not only puts the catholic church front and centre, but deals with heartbreak, abuse, anger, evil, female unity and strength and forgiveness of self and others. A well-written narrative that I enjoyed immensely.

I did a read/listen of Mercy House, narrated by a full cast. The voices given to the various characters made this an amazing book to listen to. Each of the residents had their own accents and voices so I knew who was speaking and telling their story. Sister Evelyn's voice was strong and had me picturing her in my mind. If you get an opportunity to listen to this audiobook, I highly recommend it. The publisher generously provided a copy of this book upon request. The rating, ideas and opinions shared are my own.
Profile Image for Sue .
1,585 reviews95 followers
February 9, 2020
This compassionate novel is about a group of nuns who start a shelter for women who are victims of domestic violence. We get a look into the lives of the residents as well as the nuns who run the house. Much of the story is told by Sister Evelyn who has been a nun for over 50 years. She is a strong and compassionate woman who wants to protect everyone - the residents, her neighbors and her friends. She is feisty and will stand up to anyone - muggers, drug dealers or anyone who tries to take advantage of other people. She is bitter about her family and the reasons that she went into the convent but she loves her life at Mercy House. There is a bishop that she has a history with who has decided to shut down Mercy House and she does her best to keep it from happening. It's a toss-up over who will win this battle because they both have secrets about each other. Sister Evelyn is also very funny and in parts had me laughing out loud. She is a character who will not soon be forgotten.

All of the residents are there to escape from the person who is abusing them and find healing in their lives. There is a chapter by each one of the residents and even though they are very difficult to read, they give a good depiction of the cycle of abuse.

Evelyn will do anything to protect Mercy House and the women it serves. She is a strong woman who fights to defend all that she loves and finds that mercy is not just for those who receive it but also to those who give it.

Thanks to the publisher for a copy of this book to read and review. All opinions are my own,





1 review
November 27, 2019
I received an ARC of this novel from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I was initially really excited to read this book after seeing the description.  Once I got into the book, it was quickly evident that the author has an ax to grind with the Catholic Church and every negative cliche and stereotype within the Church was milked to its full extent.  It is a somewhat heartwarming story wrapped in so many errors and gross misinterpretations of the Catholic Church and Religious Life. I was a nun for twelve years so I know very well the inner workings of the Church and I found this book ludicrous.  
Profile Image for Kate Olson.
2,085 reviews727 followers
Shelved as 'did-not-finish'
January 24, 2020
DNF the audiobook (free review copy from Libro.fm) at approximately 20% due to multiple graphic depictions of rape and sexual assault. I am not faulting the book or author for this but I have learned that I can’t listen to this content and can disassociate more easily when I experience it via text. I may try this book on paper when it releases.
Profile Image for Mama Cass.
65 reviews5 followers
April 10, 2020
Best book I've read in ages

I loved the characters so much. Mercy House is a safe place for women to go to escape their abusers, and it's run by what I would call liberal nuns. Story angered me, made me laugh, cry and above all, feel.
21 reviews
November 23, 2019
I have conflicting feelings about this book. As a reader, I like most of the characters, though I feel some of them are a little unnecessarily extreme. I like the humorous situations thrown in with the serious business of running this much-needed home. It has a good storyline. However, as a lifelong Catholic, I find the fictionalizing of many of the controversies in the church hard to swallow, even though many controversies do exist, and many are swept under the rug. I'm sure things like this happen in many religious communities as well as business communities. So I guess I just feel picked-on. I really liked this book, however my Catholic conscience won't let me give it a higher rating.
Profile Image for Schizanthus Nerd.
1,113 reviews226 followers
October 18, 2020
“Two eighty-four Chauncey Street. It’s the one with the angel doorknocker. Arrive any time. Day or night. You can be safe.”
Sisters Evelyn, Josephine and Maria have run Mercy House for twenty five years, providing a safe place for women who are escaping violence. Although they are undoubtably effective in their mission, they don’t always play by the strict rules of the Catholic Church.
“It’s what we’ve feared,” Josephine said. “It’s him.”
Bishop Hawkins is coming to visit Mercy House. His visit is part of the ‘nun-quisition’, which puts the actions of nuns under the microscope because of their “secular mentality” and “feminist spirit”. (Never mind that the same church actively moves priests between parishes and pays hush money to sweep much greater offences under the rug.) Besides the fear that the methods they employ in their ministry won’t stand up to close scrutiny, Evelyn has her own personal reasons for never wanting to see this ‘man of God’ again.

When you think of nuns, Evelyn is probably not who you have in mind. She loves what she does but still grumbles at getting woken up in the middle of the night when it’s her turn to answer the door. Her beliefs aren’t as strictly tied to her faith as you’d expect and if there’s a loophole that will produce better results, you can be sure she’ll find it.

Actually, none of the Sisters who run Mercy House line up with stereotypical nuns. Would you ever expect nuns to have a conversation like this?
“Crap baskets,” Maria said.
“Yeah. Major crap baskets,” Evelyn agreed.
Love it!

As much as I loved the three Sisters, I hated Hawkins and spent much of the book overcome by a seething fury, imagining all of the ways that I wanted to see him suffer. You don’t want to just angry your way through a book though. Fortunately there were some amazing women who balanced out my rage with wonder at their courage and resilience. These women are dealing with shame and secrets, and trying their best to survive their past.

While I liked each of the residents of Mercy House, it was Desiree who stood out, and for good reason. Desiree has this in your face brashness. She acts tough but she’s vulnerable as well, although she definitely doesn’t want you to acknowledge that part of her. She speaks her mind and oftentimes says what everyone else is thinking. You’d want to be her friend but she’d make a fierce enemy so don’t get on the wrong side of her. She was responsible for most of my smiles while I was reading.
“This is sweet and all, but we were promised we’d get pizza if we came to church. So …”
The women of Mercy House have been through some really difficult life experiences, none of which are glossed over. Please be safe while reading, especially if you are likely to be triggered by any of the content.

Although it made the narrative neater, it seemed unlikely to me that during the course of the book, no new residents came seeking refuge at Mercy House after we met Lucia.

I don’t know if publishers don’t know about readers like myself but whenever there’s a website included in a book I’m going to look it up. There’s a website in this book, SaveMercyHouse.com, that doesn’t exist. Given the book’s themes, I would have loved to have seen a page that represented what was mentioned in the book, along with details of relevant helplines and organisations that readers could donate to.

I think I understand why the author left the story where they do. Although there are many characters who make their mark on the lives and/or hearts of the nuns who run Mercy House, this story really is Evelyn’s. Her story ends with possibilities for the future but overall the book didn’t give me the answers I hoped for.

What wonders can be built from broken stuff.
Content warnings include .

Blog - https://schizanthusnerd.com
Profile Image for Alena.
836 reviews217 followers
January 18, 2022
I will try to come back to review this with a clearer head but I’m really loving this author’s work - how she takes real life events (in this case the misguided inquisition of American nuns by the Vatican) and creates a complex and heart wrenching novel. I loved Sister Evelyn immediately. The residents of Mercy House were a little overblown for my taste, but that’s small complaint.
Added bonus, Dillon’s admiration for nuns had its roots working with CSJ sister, so apparently we share more than a first name. The afterward was worth the read.
Profile Image for Denise.
1,955 reviews81 followers
February 24, 2020
"Mercy House was a safe haven for victims of domestic violence, founded and operated by Sister Evelyn, Sister Josephine, and Sister Maria...Their row house in Brooklyn was almost always at capacity...Good for business, bad for humanity."

I am not sure what I was expecting when I selected this and started reading but I got so much more than anticipated. This was really a remarkable story about courage and resilience not only that of the women who came there to escape horrible situations, but also the Sisters of St. Joseph of Mercy who set up the safe house. These indomitable women faced incredible odds and the scrutiny of the Catholic Church whose efforts to destroy their mission almost ruined them all. The story has so many different characters whose backgrounds and experiences have shaped their lives and brought them to Mercy House right before the Vatican sends Bishop Robert Hawkins to scrutinize the activity of religious sisters -- hunting for deviations from doctrine. They call it the "nun-quisition, reproaching American nuns for their 'secular mentality' and 'feminist spirit."

Can Sister Evelyn and her cohort resist the efforts of the devious Bishop to close down Mercy House and get rid of her -- excommunicate her -- in the process? For Sister Evelyn has a secret that has shamed her for years and she may not be able to overcome years of indoctrination and self-hatred to reveal it. Because of Sister Evelyn's own inability to forgive the many transgressions committed against her, it comes as a surprise when she's offered both grace and mercy when everything finally falls apart. The details of convent life, the activities in Mercy House, the stories of the resident abused women who live there, and the atrocities committed by those in service to the Catholic Church will probably not surprise you, but will affect you. It was a very absorbing narrative that I found hard to put down and can't stop thinking about.

This novel is not just meant for Catholics, but it might affect reaction to it. That said, I am Catholic, went to Catholic schools for almost my entire education (including one year at a Catholic University), taught and worked in Catholic Schools for over 20 years -- you can say I've definitely been immersed -- and nothing in this book shocked me. I know there are those who wonder how someone can still claim to be Catholic despite all the horrible abuses that have come to light. I say that Catholicism is not based on those people but in the faith itself. There is incredible beauty and peace in many of the beliefs and rituals as well as in the community of the faithful DESPITE the sins of those who misuse their power and destroy souls. Is the church changing -- yes, definitely. I'll leave it for others to debate what those changes mean for the future and for the current members.

The writing was excellent and I look forward to reading other reviewers' thoughts and reactions. As Sister Evelyn learns, mercy has value to the person who bestows it and holding grudges destroys the spirit. Grace, undeserved love, is a gift to be treasured.

Thank you to NetGalley and HarperCollins Publishers for this e-book ARC to read, review and recommend.
Profile Image for Kristen Doyle.
201 reviews150 followers
February 17, 2020
As reviewed on www.dineanddish.net

This is one of those books that is not for everyone and is definitely controversial, but I found it to be a compelling and thought-provoking read. (As a Catholic myself, a warning if you are easily offended even by works of fiction, this is not the book for you). It's also a book where the audio narration absolutely added to the story.

Sister Evelyn has experienced repeated sexual abuse at the hands of a well-respected priest...yet she is forced to stay quiet. She turns her experience into good by eventually opening a safe house for women in trouble. As a spirited Catholic nun, Sister Evelyn and her fellow sisters show compassion and support to women who have experienced a variety of hardships at the hands of others. Even when her support goes against the teachings of the Catholic church, the sisters continue to show mercy. Sister Evelyn's compassion is turned against her when Mercy House is investigated by the Catholic church and threatened to be shut down.

This is a story of forgiveness, redemption and a reminder that when it comes to mercy, not everything is as black and white as it may seem. Trigger warnings: themes of sexual and physical abuse, rape and abortion. 
Profile Image for Basic B's Guide.
929 reviews285 followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
January 21, 2020
Dnf at 18%. This book took a very unfortunate turn that will only perpetuate stereotypes within the church. I’m disappointed as I had high hopes.
Profile Image for Renee.
986 reviews167 followers
February 15, 2020
With Mercy House, Alena Dillon has crafted a poignant story that will touch many with an unforgettable feisty, flawed big-hearted character, Sister Evie, at the center of it all. It’s already predicted to be a book club top pick.

(Side note: Many of my Goodreads pals are fellow lovers of Christian, inspirational, and clean fiction. This is not that.)

There is much to applaud about a story that celebrates heroines in their late 60s. These ladies have spent their entire adult lives protecting the vulnerable, healing the broken, championing the despised. AND they still have a lot of life, joy, vitality, and spunk left in them! Brava to Ms. Dillon for portraying the kind of real people who create a safe haven for others & make a real difference in this world.

Also, I appreciate the focus on a faith that is lived out in action & the spotlight turned on the victims of violence and how our I-don’t-want-to-get-involved culture turns a blind eye instead of putting a stop to the cycle.

However, what’s always difficult for me to understand is how folks can uplift the vulnerable in one sphere to the exception of all others. So it’s tough for me to agree that when a girl becomes pregnant through violence or abuse, her only two choices are killing the child or living weighed down by the burdens of poverty and single motherhood.

Why can’t adoption figure into those choices?

Some of my most talented, vibrant students were brought into this world in similar circumstances, adopted out, and raised to become strong, compassionate, beautiful young women. They love life! They fight for life! They raise their voices to say ‘We are here!’

They would not have wanted to be denied their lives because of the wrongs and weaknesses of their biological parents.

So if I were in a book club that had read this book, those would be some of the thoughts I would share :)

Some big names have endorsed this title, so I wouldn’t be surprised to eventually see it in movie form. (Kathy Bates as Sister Evie?) Congrats, Ms. Dillon!

(Trigger warning for descriptions of rape & abuse. Strong, crude language & sexual references.)

Profile Image for Jen.
1,124 reviews98 followers
January 17, 2020
The house on Chauncey Street with the angel knocker is a safe haven for abused women. Here at Mercy House, the women are nursed back to life by nuns. Sister Evelyn leads the pack, but she’s got secrets of her own. ⁣

This book is incredibly controversial and I absolutely cannot wait for everyone to read it so we can discuss! This is going to be a fantastic book club choice because there’s SO much to pick apart. People are going to fall into two camps- they are going to love it or they are going to absolutely hate it. I’ve been ruminating on my review for days because I still don’t know how I feel about it. It is emotional, unique, and will ruffle a lot of feathers! I’m not Catholic so this did not affect me the way it likely will a Catholic, hence the reason I’m dying to discuss this! I can’t wait to hear a Catholics take on it. ⁣

Mercy House is beautifully written. I’m astonished that this is from a debut author! Sexual abuse and physical abuse run rampant here for those of you with triggers. This dives into the Catholic sex abuse scandal in a fearless, in your face way. Sister Evelyn is strong, brave, and completely unorthodox. She will shatter any stereotype you have about nuns. I loved this fierce lady and her fellow sisters that run the house.⁣

This book stirred up so many emotions for me. It tackles heavy topics and does not shy away from controversy. The fact that I’m still ruminating over this book a week later is testament to the strength of this novel. ⁣

Mercy House is simultaneously empowering and devastating. The dichotomy is where the beauty lies. A must read for 2020! Thank you @harpercollins @williammorrowbooks for the advance reader in exchange for my honest review.⁣

Profile Image for Lisa Roberts.
1,403 reviews
February 18, 2020
best of amazon 02/2020 and Newburyport Book Festival 2020

It rare that we get a book set in a convent in modern day literature. This convent, also known as Mercy House, is in Brooklyn and run by a small number of older nuns. They take in girls, usually young who are in need of care and hiding from the abuse of men in their lives. The characters, both the nuns and the residents are fantastic and the dialog is heartfelt and funny. Then along comes the Bishop who has a previous connection with Sister Evelyn and he and Sister Evelyn go toe to toe and they go back and forth each winning verbal battles as well as big battles, but who will win in the end? There are several story lines here and they are all good. I kept wanting to get back to the book to find out what happened next.
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