This Side of Heaven by Karen Kingsbury is the third book in her Cody Gunner series, but if you haven't read the first two books (like me) don't worry, you won't feel at all lost here, because Cody is just a minor character. Josh Warren has spent much of his life being underestimated by his family. He's not a successful writer like his sister Lindsey or a teacher/politician like his father Nate. Josh had found happiness in being a tow truck driver, despite disappointing his parents, until an accident left him nearly crippled with back and neck pain. His lawsuit against the insurance company is finally coming to a head three years later, and Josh has pinned his hopes on a large settlement. With the money, he can finally get a paternity test to prove that Savannah, the product of a one night stand in Las Vegas seven years ago, is really his and he can open his own business and make his parents proud of him. Before the settlement comes, tragedy strikes, and his family is forced to re-evaluate who Josh really was and discover if Savannah is part of their family as well. Kingsbury is one of the most successful writers in Christian fiction for a reason. She knows how to grab hold of a reader's heart and not let go until the final page. We all know someone like Josh; someone who we don't think has lived up to their potential in life, but we can't know every circumstance in a person's life, only God has that knowledge. Josh's value in life isn't determined by the job he held or the amount of money he made, but in the lives that he touched with his faith and his goodness. The story is heart-wrenching, and I found myself praying as the ending approached. It's the kind of story that if Kingsbury ended it in a certain way, critics are certain to accuse her of tying things up too neatly, but as a reader, I would have cried if she had ended it any other way. Kingsbury has an deep connection to this story as it closely parallels that of her brother. She uses the grief and lessons she learned in her own life to make this story connect with the reader. Even if her writing isn't always top notch, she has a unique ability to create deeply moving stories that are nearly impossible to put down.
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