Jim Chambers was born in 1946, nine months and five days after his father returned from serving with the U.S. 8th Air Force in England during World War II. After earning two engineering degrees at Georgia Tech, he spent the next 40 years designing highways in Georgia. Besides writing, Chambers is an avid amateur photographer and scuba diver. His land and underwater photography has been published in such prestigious publications as National Geographic, Popular Photography, and Parade Magazine.
This member has not published any books.
Smashwords book reviews by Jim Chambers
- Sage: Tales from a Magical Kingdom
on Sep. 28, 2009
As much as I love fantasy, I don't read a lot of that genre nowadays, since it's so hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, with so many authors trying to be the next Tolkien or Rowling. Nevertheless, I had seen some favorable comments about "Sage: Tales from a Magical Kingdom," and I noticed that it was a short book, so I downloaded it.
It's a nice concept. The author, Maria E. Schneider, has created a mythical magical kingdom and introduced the reader to this realm through three short stories featuring the main characters. In a different twist, instead of having a world inhabited by ordinary people with a scattering of wizards, witches, and the like, in Sage, everyone is a magician of sorts, with each person specializing in a certain form of magic. The first character we're introduced to is Demetria, an aging grandmother who is a Master Gardener, having the ability to communicate with and influence plants. Demetria's husband, Ward, is a Stone Master, who has the power to manipulate stones (which comes in very handy in one of the stories).
In the first of the three stories, "Toil Trouble and Rot," Demetria discovers that the kingdom's crops are rotting due to a magic fungus introduced by Sage's arch enemies, the Rats who live just beyond Sage's borders. Demetria and Ward, with their children, Gavin and Xylia, set off to determine the extent of the damage and to destroy the fungus. With help from their friends, each of whom has a special magical power, they go in harm's way to battle the fungus, which is as deadly to humans as it is to plants.
"Dungeons and Decay," the second story, is about a search for Demetria and Ward's son Gavin, who is missing and is feared to have been captured by the Rats in the kingdom of Ratdom. In "Call to Arms," the third story, Demetria and Ward and their friends are involved in some nastiness by creepy crawlers from the Slithering Kingdom.
Sage is a magical kingdom, but the magic is white magic, or earth magic, where the human inhabitants are finely attuned to their natural surroundings and can subtly influence and communicate with objects like trees and stones and animals. There are no wizards hurling lightning bolts or casting evil spells in Sage, which was a relief from the typical fantasy story. In that sense, Sage is reminiscent of an earlier time when people were more aware of the natural world and their surroundings. Demetria, Ward, and the others in Sage are interesting characters and certainly sympathetic ones as they go about protecting their land from the dangerous, evil creatures who surround them.
Ms. Schneider's writing is very polished and professional, and I found no spelling or grammar errors. Also, the formatting was perfect. I take neither of these for granted, and the author obviously took a great deal of care in editing, the bane of many authors today.
I'm not sure what kind of reading audience "Sage" is targeted toward, but in my opinion, it's suitable for children through adults. There are some scenes that might frighten a very young child, but any kid who made it through Harry Potter would certainly be okay with "Sage."
My only negative comment - and it's a very minor one - is that there are only three stories in the book. The magical realm that Ms. Schneider has created certainly invites more stories, possibly even a full-length novel about Sage and its people and their relationships with other lands and people beyond its borders.
In the fantasy genre, it's getting harder and harder to find new books that are both original and well written. Maria Schneider has written a winner with "Sage."
- Advantage Disadvantage
on Jan. 25, 2010
Fictional stories and films about baseball and football are plentiful, but basketball stories seem to be relatively scarce. Although I'm not a huge fan of basketball, I thoroughly enjoyed Yale Jaffe's "Advantage Disadvantage." It's a welcome addition to the sports fiction genre, with its story of the development of a young basketball player, Jamal Imari. "Advantage Disadvantage" has a nice storyline with a cast of interesting and colorful characters, but to me the real attraction is the behind-the-scenes look at how promising young basketball players are recruited and groomed for college hoops. The story takes place in Chicago, but the location could be any large American city.
The cast of characters includes Jamal Imari, a talented young basketball player with a burning desire to play in college; his father Marcus, who helps with his coaching; Jamal's mother Elizabeth, who turns elsewhere for love as her marriage to Marcus falls apart; Billy Rechter, a high school basketball referee; Frank Worrell, a newspaper reporter who gets caught up in a gambling scheme engineered by Bobby G, a former gangbanger who now has a lucrative bookmaking business; Nancy Kapist, a newspaper editor who's Frank Worrell's boss and part-time lover; and Scott Venturi, the coach of Jamal's high school team who will do anything to get a college coaching job, even if it means using Jamal to get it. All these characters' lives are intertwined against the backdrop of big-city basketball as Jamal goes through the system from grade school through high school.
The author obviously has firsthand knowledge of high school basketball. It was fascinating to go behind-the-scenes to learn how players are recruited and brought up through the system. I learned about the role that the National Athletic Union (NAU) plays in running summer camps, where players are subjected to weeks of intensive training. It was equally fascinating to see what goes into the making of a referee. Who would have guessed that making the top ranks of referees was as competitive and tough as becoming a top player. Gambling rears its ugly head even at the high school level as bookmaker Bobby G conspires with reporter Frank Worrell to suck bettors into his scheme and make a killing in the playoffs. All of these elements come together at the end to make for an exciting and violent climax.
The editing for my Smashwords version was very good. I did notice an occasional typo, but not enough to affect my enjoyment of the book.
Bottom line: A very enjoyable book with an engaging story, interesting characters, and an exciting build-up to a dramatic climax.
on May 28, 2010
Having read and enjoyed Robert Williams' short story collection "Strange Times" and his novel "Peculiar, MO," I expected his new short story "Dust" to be a good one, and I was not disappointed. The story is about a character named Stan Owens, a wealthy adventurer and aviator who is reminiscent of Steve Fossett, whose plane crashed in the Nevada desert a few years ago. Owens' plane also crashes in the Nevada desert after the engine fails. Having flow over some buildings a few miles back, Owens hikes through the hot sand and blistering sun to reach the building complex, which appears to be some type of abandoned military base. What he finds there will cause him to reexamine his entire life. I won't give away any spoilers, but the poem "Ozymandias" by Percy Bysshe Shelley is key to the story and to Owens' doubts about the real value of his contributions to the world.
"Dust" would have been a great "Twilight Zone" episode.
- A Day For A Day
on July 01, 2010
For her first novel, Donna Lee Comer has written a rip-snorter of a taut, suspenseful novel that had me on the edge of my seat most of the time. The story is about Maggie and Jim Taylor and their young daughter Sarah who live in a quiet Pennsylvania town. Their lives are perfectly normal until Sarah is kidnapped, the third kidnapping of young girls in the area over a few weeks. Maggie and Jim's faith is tested, and their marriage is shaken in trying to weather the storm created by Sarah's kidnapping. When Sarah's body is found a couple of weeks later, Maggie and Jim are devastated.
Incredibly, just as Maggie has a startling revelation about the kidnapping, she herself is kidnapped by a psychotic man who makes Norman Bates look like a choirboy. Imprisoned in a small shed, Maggie learns that she is the fourth woman to be taken by Walter Mills, a ne'er do well who wants a woman to love him. Determined to live, Maggie tries to play along, hoping that an opportunity to escape presents itself.
The police battle with the answer to the question: is there one kidnapper or are there two of them? The younger pre-teen girls were killed almost immediately, and their bodies were found. Maggie and the other young women, on the other hand, just disappeared without a trace, and no bodies had been found. And only Maggie knows the answer.
"A Day For a Day" rachets up the tension and builds to a gut-wrenching climax, one that left me breathless. Ms. Comer knows how to write a suspenseful thriller. She expertly threaded the narrative so that the mysteries were gradually revealed, with the suspense steadily building.
One element of "A Day For a Day" involved the experiences and emotions of families who have lost children to child molesters. I don't know how the author is so familiar with the process that families go through, but it sounded very believable. I should add that even though young girls are abducted and abused and killed in the novel, there are no explicit scenes.
For a new novelist, Ms. Comer's writing style is very smooth, and if not quite at the level of big name authors, it's close. One minor comment about dialog between characters: the lack of contractions made some of the dialog seem a bit stilted or overformal.
Overall, a fine first novel by Ms. Comer that I recommend to anyone.
- Nunzilla Was My Mother and My Stepmother Was a Witch
on Aug. 20, 2010
Terry Silver's memoir of her childhood years is one of the most engaging memoirs that I've read in quite some time. Being placed in an Ohio orphanage in 1929 with her four young siblings after their mother was committed to a mental hospital and with her ailing father unable to support them, she spent virtually her entire youth in orphanages. She was initially placed in St. Ann's Infant Asylum in Columbus, Ohio, which was operated by an order of Catholic nuns who inexplicably changed her name from her given "Concetta" to "Terfina." I can only imagine how frightening this must have been for a four-year-old who only spoke Italian, her parents' native language. After two years at St. Ann's, she was transferred across the street to St. Vincent's Orphanage, which was also run by nuns. In 1940, at her father's request, the teenaged Terfina was transferred to the Ohio Soldiers' and Sailors' Orphans' Home (OS&SO) in Xenia, Ohio, where she lived until graduating from high school.
Reading about life in St. Vincent's was eerily reminiscent of reading "Oliver Twist," with orphanage life being remarkably similar in some ways to life in the children's workhouses of 19th century England. Reading about the harsh treatment by some of the nuns, the wretched food, and the spartan living conditions made me extra grateful for growing up with two loving parents. And I understand why Ms. Silver refers to the nuns as "Nunzilla" in the title of her book.
Life at the OS&SO, a secular institution run by the State of Ohio, was much different and much better than at St. Vincent's. Children were much freer there, and living conditions and food were much improved compared to St. Vincent's. But even there, as the author hated some particularly cruel nuns at St. Vincent's, she came to hate Miss Redway, the housemother of her cottage and the "stepmother was a witch" in the book's title. Years later, after Miss Redway's sudden death, Ms. Silver experienced feelings of guilt for being glad that Miss Redway was dead. This conflict would torment her for several years.
The memoir portion of "Nunzilla" ends with Ms. Silver's graduation from high school. In a postscript, she reaches a surprising conclusion that parentless children would be better off in an orphanage than in a foster home, and she makes a good case for this. She also manages a degree of forgiveness for the nuns of St. Vincent's, explaining that their order had a tradition of strictness and that most of the nuns genuinely believed that their tough discipline was meant to keep kids from burning in hell.
It was the little tidbits of daily life at St. Vincent's and the OS&SO that made the story so fascinating. St. Vincent's was a grim, dreary place with few joys for the children other than a rare occasional treat. Ms. Silver was there during the Great Depression of the 1930s, and in the orphanage, the food was mostly donated rotten fruit and spoiled meat that was too gross to read about, much less to actually consume. And there was so little food that the kids were always hungry. The orphanage building was an ugly, dirty place with little outside green space to play in and few opportunities to leave the grounds.
By comparison, the OS&SO was a paradise, with better facilities, better food, even weekly allowances for the kids to spend on movies or treats in town. If it wasn't for the cruel housemother in Cottage Fifteen, it would have been as good as an orphanage could get.
Terry Silver's story ends shortly after the end of World War II, when she leaves the OS&SO and moves into the "real" world.
Ms. Silver writes very well, with her vivid descriptions of life in the three orphanages she lived in and her relationships with both the adults who ran the orphanages and the other kids she met while living there. She's had an interesting life for sure.
A definite five stars. Highly recommended reading.
- Executive Sick Days
on March 02, 2011
"Executive Sick Days" is the third book in Maria Schneider's Sedona O'Hala series, and in my opinion, it's the best so far. Once again, Sedona is working for Steve Huntington, this time to find out who is "cooking the books" at Crestwood Hospital and profiting by it. The answer may lie in the hospital records, so Sedona becomes an unpaid volunteer at the hospital so that she can go undercover to solve the mystery. Sedona's former coworker Radar is working at the hospital as an IT professional, but he's also working undercover for Huntington.
As usual, there's no shortage of possible suspects as Sedona, Radar, and Mark Huntington (Steve's brother) try to sort out the evidence - incomplete medical files, overnight hospital stays that don't appear to be warranted, and missing or messed up entries in some records. As they get closer to some answers, the unknown perpetrator fights back, and it becomes clear that the stakes are high enough to kill for.
There's lots of action in "Executive Sick Days," but it's not quite as frenetic as the first two books in the series. Sedona, Radar, and Mark do some solid investigative work to root out the culprit, although they're not above bending the law a bit to get the information they need. There are plenty of laughs too, as Sedona confronts despotic head nurse Sally Rendal, who she nicknames "Attila." When a patient brings his pet snake into the hospital, Sedona has an opportunity to get back at Attila, and she makes the most of it. And Sedona's sister-in-law Brenda, who's a nurse at the hospital, is still wearing her comical outfits to try to keep her pregnancy from showing.
And I should mention that Sedona is more romantically involved this time around. She's hopelessly head over heels in love, but to say any more would be a spoiler.
The author, Maria Schneider, is hitting her stride now as a writer of cozy mysteries. This one was first rate.