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A sisterly soap runs and runs

27 June 2014

Naomi Starkey is carried along, but tempted to skip

Babe's Bible: Sister Acts
Karen Jones
DLT £8.99
Church Times Bookshop £8.10 (Use code CT522 )

WHILE the title and cover of this book shout "chick lit", the plotline reads more like one of the racier soap operas, full of rollercoaster emotion and cliffhanger moments. At the start, the heroine, Grace, is finishing her curacy. By the end, we have met an extensive cast of characters dealing with people-trafficking, alcohol abuse, porn addiction, family breakdown, suicide - oh, and ordinary church life - and Grace is flourishing as a vicar, having successfully battled lustful thoughts about her bishop.

While a theology encompassing "signs and wonders" is to the fore, the story encompasses struggles as well as Spirit-fuelled insights. Grace has little trouble in tuning into what she feels is the voice of God, but overall there is a refreshing lack of glib answers or slick happy endings to the various narrative threads.

This is the second volume in a trilogy (Books, 1 March 2013), and - as in a good soap opera - the audience is drawn into wanting to explore the many back-stories (was Grace formerly some kind of sex worker? And her best friend had an affair with her vicar?), as well as what will happen next, in a deliciously gossipy sort of way.

What I did find distracting was the "story within the story": Grace's own rewriting of events from Acts, interspersed throughout the narrative. Perhaps the aim is to show that life today has much in common with New Testament times; so we can therefore hope for the same dramatic church growth as the early Christians experienced.

While the reimagining of Mary of Bethany's story was touching, I found these sections read less easily, and, on balance, I preferred to hurry through them and back to the twists and turns of the present-day saga.

Naomi Starkey is a commissioning editor for BRF, and edits and writes for New Daylight Bible-reading notes. She has also written Good Enough Mother (BRF, 2009) and The Recovery of Love (BRF, 2012).

THE third novel to appear in Karen Jones's Babe's Bible trilogy is Love Letter (DLT, £8.99 (£8.10); 978-0-232-53062-9). As ever, it veers between a modern narrative and that of early Christians in the Church of Acts, two different typefaces being used to help the reader negotiate the time shifts. In the contemporary (or slightly future) story, the PCC discusses "human sexuality", the Bishop makes a pass, the name of the main character, Grace, is put forward for the episcopate, there is an emotional funeral, and a big service in St Paul's . . . but Grace's thoughts often return to her biblical counterparts. GP

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