CHURCH FOLK is a charming first novel by Michele Andrea Bowen. According to her foreword, she needed the strength and guidance of quite a few people to make CHURCH FOLK a reality. Perhaps her most realized mentor was God, who takes front and center importance in the story of Essie Lee and Theophilus Simmons, a young, vibrant couple like any other newly committed couple. The only difference here is that Theophilus is a would-be reverend and their romance and wedded bliss is played out against a background of church communities, loyalties, dramas and loves.
There are many people who could come between Essie and her man but none more threatening than the evil-minded Glodean, a brazen hussy who keeps coming back into their lives in the most unexpected ways. But it is Theophilus' ministry, really, that creates the most havoc --- who knew that becoming a respected reverend took all the diplomacy skills of a politician and the joyous ringing belief in spirituality that most people take for granted except on Sundays. The carnal love of the couple enjoys lots of page time, so there is even sex in this novel. In every chapter, CHURCH FOLK presents some very unexpected twists and turns.
For a first novel, Bowen takes a lot of chances --- first, setting the story in the world of a ministry, which would immediately limit its appeal to the general audience. To counter that, of course, there is an old-fashioned love story between the two protagonists and a lot of rather steamy love scenes, especially for a minister and his wife. The political aspect of the Reverend's rise is also a great selling point, as it gives Theophilus both a sacred and profane level to his character. Essie Lee is adorable, as sweet and as good as a woman could be. In giving us such appealing characters, Bowen makes the constant God-ness of the story line easy to take for followers of any spirituality.
Published by Walk Worthy Press, an imprint of Warner Books, CHURCH FOLK has found a good home, and Bookreporter.com has found a joyful and enriching first novel to recommend to its readers.
Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on January 21, 2011