Mercy House – Alena Dillon

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

“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,, 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.

😇 Did Mercy House stay open?

😇 Was Evelyn ever called Sister again?

😇 What happened between Evelyn and Eloise?

😇 Were there any consequences for the bishop?

😇 Were there any consequences for John?

😇 What happened to the five Mercy House residents we got to know?

What wonders can be built from broken stuff.

Content warnings include abortion, addiction, domestic violence, gun violence, homophobia, racism, self harm and sexual assault.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

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.

The Cabin at the End of the World – Paul Tremblay

This is one of those books where you’re certain going into it that you know what you’re getting yourself into, but then you learn you had no idea. An isolated cabin in the woods inhabited by a family whose respite is interrupted by a group of strangers with possible mayhem in mind. That’s been done before, right? I’ve seen the movies.

What if the strangers tell the family that the choices they make in that cabin have the power to press pause on the apocalypse or set it in motion?! Now you’re talking!

In this book you’ll learn who the family are as individuals and how their family dynamics work both before and during the invasion. Invited inside their heads, you’ll hear their thoughts as their lives are turned upside down and you’ll be given access to some of their most treasured and painful memories.

This is a loving and loveable family consisting of two doting dads and their adorable adopted daughter. I loved them all. It would have been so much easier if just one of them were the slightest bit irritating … but they’re not.

So, what about the invaders? Sorry, but all things considered I liked them too. I tried my hardest to demonise them but failed miserably. Whether you believe what they say or not, I believed that they believed it. From that perspective, scary as it sounds, it made sense to me where they were coming from. Much like our gorgeous couple, I went back and forth between not believing the people who had disrupted their peaceful lives and wondering if maybe they were actually telling the truth.

This is not a casual read and if you’re going through a stressful time in your life you may want to put this book on hold until your stress event has faded somewhat. It’s a testament to Paul Tremblay that his writing stressed me out so much. I kept getting this image of my life being this red stress ball at the time and reading this book felt like adding sharp metal spikes to it.

The Cabin at the End of the World may not have had as big an impact if my life had been floating on a calm lake while reading but I still think the constant tension, suspense and paranoia was always going to raise my blood pressure. I read some of this book in a doctor’s waiting room and at the beginning of my appointment my blood pressure was 132/100. Coincidence? You can decide for yourself after you read it!

I adore the way that Paul writes. I connected to his characters and felt like I was immersed in what was happening inside that cabin. I felt engaged the whole time and I was invested in the outcome of every character. I’m not quite sure how Paul did this but there were scenes where I had to pause and marvel at the beauty of sentences describing brutality. It doesn’t seem like the two should go together but they did here.

The pacing feels practically frenetic at times and I can’t see the story working as well any other way. You get to catch your breath when the characters do. Overall though, the stress of the situation doesn’t ease for the characters so it doesn’t ease for the reader either.

I expect some readers will be uneasy and maybe even cranky about some unanswered questions. While I would certainly read with interest a Q&A with the author I thought the book finished exactly where it should have and I’m okay with the unanswered questions. Throughout the book you’re only privy to information as it’s explained to the characters so it felt perfect to me how it ended.

My Nerd is Showing: I really appreciated the synchronicity between the number of grasshoppers Wen catches at the beginning of the book and the number of people that wind up in the cabin. I also picked up on some really interesting (to me) correlations between that and other numbers that pop up in the book and what those numbers are said to represent from a Biblical perspective. [Yes, I have a bazillion years of Bible College behind me. No, I won’t go all ooky spooky super spiritual on you and bore you with the Bible number meaning thing. You’re welcome!]

I wondered throughout the book if the specific numbers were intentional or not and wavered between thinking they had to be deliberate and thinking I was reading too much into something that meant nothing. Naturally after finishing the book I read the author’s bio. Upon discovering that Paul has a master’s degree in mathematics a nerdy smile may have escaped. Now I really want to believe the numbers were deliberate. 🤓

Favourite Phrase: “brain-bashed proto-zombie” … Seriously, how awesome is that word combo?!

The Bottom Line: I need to read every single thing Paul has or will ever write. I want to ramble on and on about all of the parts of this book that either surprised me, had me wanting to bite my nails or melted chunks off my icy heart but I won’t because I’m mean like that I don’t want to ruin your reading experience by getting into spoiler territory.

Content warnings include gory violence, home invasion, flashbacks and discussion of a homophobic hate crime, and scenes that may cause your blood pressure to rise.

Thank you so much to Edelweiss and William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, for the opportunity to read this book and discover a new favourite author in the process.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Seven-year-old Wen and her parents, Eric and Andrew, are vacationing at a remote cabin on a quiet New Hampshire lake. Their closest neighbours are more than two miles in either direction along a rutted dirt road.

One afternoon, as Wen catches grasshoppers in the front yard, a stranger unexpectedly appears in the driveway. Leonard is the largest man Wen has ever seen but he is young, friendly, and he wins her over almost instantly. Leonard and Wen talk and play until Leonard abruptly apologises and tells Wen, “None of what’s going to happen is your fault”. Three more strangers then arrive at the cabin carrying unidentifiable, menacing objects. As Wen sprints inside to warn her parents, Leonard calls out: “Your dads won’t want to let us in, Wen. But they have to. We need your help to save the world.”

Thus begins an unbearably tense, gripping tale of paranoia, sacrifice, apocalypse, and survival that escalates to a shattering conclusion, one in which the fate of a loving family and quite possibly all of humanity are entwined. The Cabin at the End of the World is a masterpiece of terror and suspense from the fantastically fertile imagination of Paul Tremblay.