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  • a really good story

    I received a free electronic ARC copy of this modern novel from Netgalley, Alena Dillon, and William Morrow Paperbacks. Thank you all for sharing your hard work with me. I have read this novel of my own volition, and this review reflects my honest opinion of this work. I am pleased to recommend Alena Dillon to friends and family. She writes a warm, positive tale peopled with complex but enjoyable protagonists and shines a light on empathy and sensitivity. Set in 2010, Mercy House follows three Catholic nuns who have made a place for themselves in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn for 26 years, from Vatican I when they wore traditional black woolen 'nun' layers of uniform and were completely silenced in the workplace and lifestyle of women, through Vatican II when they wore an abbreviated veil and calf-length clothing and into the present day where they wear conservative street clothing - and are still stifled when policies and regulations and freedoms of women in general and Catholic women, in particular, are in question. We enter the world of not only these ladies of the church but those of their focus for Mercy House - women escaping from abusive relationships and domestic violence who need a safe haven, of which there have been hundreds over the 26 years of the presence of Mercy House at 284 Chauncey Street, Brooklyn. The Angel doorknocker is the only indication that good works take place in this five-bedroom, 100-year-old rowhouse. Of the Order of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Mercy, we have Sister Evelyn, 'Evie', now 69 and hobbling with widespread gouty arthritis. She achieved a Masters in Nursing and worked for many years for the church in that capacity. Evelyn was pledged at four years old to the sisterhood by her hooligan father. When her health began to slow her down, she was the driving force in opening and keeping the doors open at Mercy House. Sister Maria was responsible for most of the cooking, which included healthy snacks to be passed out around the neighborhood, and a daily ritual of Reiki on a pad atop the kitchen table for the Sisters and residents as well. Sister Maria joined the sisterhood after a childhood that included the repeated viewing of The Sound of Music and The Flying Nun, but she always had a smile and made the best of every day. Sister Josephine entered the Order in the years before Vatican II and found comfort in the rituals and pageantry of the Church and its devotion to knowledge. She was able to use the Sisterhood as a bridge to higher education, and in her lifetime she earned a doctorate in theology and two master's degrees, one in nursing and one in philosophy. These ladies offered compassion, health care, and a bolthole to women, usually young, who are in danger from their life partner. Occasionally hard-drawn religious 'laws' have to be softened or erased, and each person helped at Mercy House has a unique need for the type of help and understanding that will get their lives back on track. The Vatican didn't always see it, that way. And Bishop Robert Hawkins comes into the picture, wanting nothing so much as to stifle Sister Evelyn, for good. She has personal knowledge of his lechery back in the day and is not ashamed to expose him. He has threatened to expose Father John, the priest at the local church who is a childhood friend of Evelyns. John will be labeled a homosexual if Evelyn shares anything of Hawkins misdeeds of long ago. Will he be able to shut down Mercy House?

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