Saturday, May 23, 2015

Book review - Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King - Review by Nick McGoldrick

It is without argument that Stephen King is the King of modern fiction. In over 50 novels, he has terrified readers with eerie story lines and authentic wit. Classics like ‘Salem’s Lot, Misery, and Carrie certify him as the champion of horror, but recently his book themes have hinted to a new direction of content. Some people are skeptic to the progression, others enjoy them more than his older works. Mr. Mercedes
is proof of change in Mr. King’s catalog. But did it live up to its dierence? In Mr. Mercedes, the book starts o with a job fair in an unknown Ohio city. It is almost four in the morning, and the line of unemployed-hopefuls had escalated from dozens to hundreds. Out of the mist, a Mercedes-Benz speed up and runs over the crowd of people, injuring and killing dozens. The reader later learns the sedan was stolen from the owner, Olivia Trelawney, who most likely left her keys in the car. After the Mercedes sped o into the morning mist, the car was then found abandoned with the killer’s mask— bleached to terminate DNA traces— in the passenger’s seat.

K. Bill Hodges is a retired detective in the unknown Ohio city. Since his retirement, he has barely left his house, watches a fair share of daytime television, and occasionally ponders on eating his own pistol. It wasn't until one day he realizes that perhaps he hadn’t reached his last case, when he receives an anonymous  letter from “THE MERCEDES KILLER.” The letter was from the person who injured and killed the people at the job fair with the stolen Mercedes two years prior, and was laced with daunting confessions and unnerving, erotic fantasies. In his letter, Mr. Mercedes invites Hodges to Under Debbie’s Blue Umbrella, an anonymous European chat site where he gives the detective hints of his next attack. After unveiling more and more information about the case, Hodges teams up with his African-American neighbor, Jerome, and a mentally-challenged women, Holly, to pursue the Mercedes killer and stop his next attack.

Throughout the novel, the reader gets perspectives from both Bill Hodges, retired detective, and Brady Hartsfield, the Mercedes killer (not a spoiler, he is introduced very early in the story). King blends these two very fluently, creating a cohesive, free-flowing plot.

When I sat down to read King’s Mr. Mercedes, I thought I knew what to expect. Stephen King has been commonly known for having marshmallowy middle portions of his books— where he rambles on about unnecessary facts and ideas for long periods of time (see his novel, Needful Things). While he recently has done a better job at improving this issue, it still occasionally pops up in his books. In Mr. Mercedes, he did not have this issue in the slightest. To my surprise, it did not read like a King book, either. The novel, unlike some of his other works, is written, for the most part, in the present tense. Stephen King did an excellent job of finding a balance between plot, dialogue and back-story.

And, without spoiling the fun, the story of retired Det. Bill Hodges shows hint of continuation— which is great news for Stephen King fans over the world.

Movie Review - Avengers: Age of Ultron (PG-13) - Review by Daniel Kilgallon

Avengers: Age of Ultron (PG-13)

Run Time: 141 min

Avengers: Age of Ultron is a new superhero action movie, sequel to the 2012 blockbuster The Avengers and the eleventh installment in the record-breaking Marvel Cinematic Universe. Directed once again by Josh Whedon, this film features an all-star ensemble cast starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader and Samuel L. Jackson. With Marvel’s seemingly endless string of incredibly entertaining and absurdly profitable installments in this franchise, my expectations as a fan were higher than ever for what was unquestionably one of the biggest movie releases of the year. In the end, Age of Ultron is yet another unbelievably exciting movie from Marvel that was even better than I expected.

Early on in the film, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) work together to complete an artificial intelligence project called Ultron (voiced by James Spader), designed as a global defense program. However, the plan immediately turns against them as Ultron believes he has to destroy all of humanity in order to save the world. Ultron constructs his own physical body and eventually an entire robot army in order to execute his destructive plan. Now, all of the Avengers must team up to save the world yet again, alongside some powerful new allies, facing a threat far greater than anything they have experienced before.

For starters, Age of Ultron is undeniably amongst the most entertaining films you will see. Now that Marvel has established hours of backstory and the team has already been assembled, this movie has the luxury of being completely action packed from start to finish. However, they still found time in the fairly lengthy runtime to continue to expand on the characters we have grown to love, particularly Clint Barton/Hawkeye. I thought he was very underused in the original movie, but they really fixed that character balance issue this time around. As expected, this movie has stunning special effects and the action sequences are completely amazing. Furthermore, the acting was exceptionally good for an action movie like this, filled with plenty of clever humor. I would also say that Ultron is the most well done villain in the series to date, largely due to the brilliant voice performance from James Spader (The Blacklist). Overall, Avengers: Age of Ultron completely blew me away and I thought it even improved on it’s amazing, epic predecessor.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Movie review - The Longest Ride

Are you looking for the perfect “date night” movie?  The Longest Ride is the movie you want.  I have been to my fair share of “chick flicks” and they always end with everyone crying.  This is not anything like that.  The Longest Ride is a love story within a love story.  It is set in North Carolina where Sophia (Britt Robertson) attends Wake Forest University.  Sophia is an art lover and is preparing for her internship at an art gallery in New York City when she is dragged to a rodeo by her sorority sisters.  

While watching the rodeo she focuses in on a young bull rider, Luke (Scott Eastwood), who is thrown off his bull and loses his hat.  When she picks it up he tells her to keep it and the love story begins.  

While out on their first date they stumble upon this elderly man Ira (Alan Alda) who has been in an accident.  After dropping him at the hospital Sophia stays to make sure he is okay.  He has a basket of letters that he wrote to his late wife all through his life and asks Sophia to read them to him.  This is where the love story within the love story begins.  

The Longest Ride is about love, dedication, courage, devotion, compassion and pride. Throughout the movie the characters show and remember romance and love in a deeply personal way.  I highly recommend this movie as the perfect date night movie.

Dear Chief - No one respects me - By Jeff "Chief" Urbaniak

DEAR CHIEF: Im an owner and manager at a small convenient store. I supervise eight people and not one of them is worth the money they get paid. Theyre lazy, come to work late, and they dont heed my threats to fire them. How do I get their respect? I really cant afford to fire them, though, because I have a hard time keeping the work force I have, as most quit after about four weeks. Where can I find good people to work for me? My store is in shambles!

DEAR DISRESPECTED STORE OWNER: Sounds like you have some serious challenges on your hand. It also appears you dont think very highly of your workforce.

First, I recommend you evaluate your training and indoctrination programs and make sure youre upholding your responsibilities of training and preparing your employees to perform required tasks. Be sure your employees are being properly taught and oriented on their roles in your store. Are you communicating your values and expectations and more importantly, are you sure they understand them?

Quite often, when someone doesnt do a task correctly within established guidelines, its because they lack one or more of the following:
1) Knowledge
2) Skills
3) Attitude

Which ones apply to your employees? If one or more of them apply, its time to take action to improve your training and orientation program. If your program isnt providing your employees with knowledge and job skills, then how can you expect them to know what theyre supposed to do or how to do it?

It is also important for you to make sure your employees are physically capable and have the necessary tools to perform required tasks. If someone cant lift a 20-pound box over their head or doesnt have the ability to type more than twenty words a minute, then youve placed the wrong person in the wrong job.

Additionally, make sure your employees are people with good character and that they have a good sense of responsibility and a desire to excel. These traits are generally exhibited by a good attitude. Hire people with good attitudes and dont hire people with bad attitudes.

Furthermore, you should provide your employees with incentives for good performance and behavior. Praise them appropriately (when deserved) and reward them when they exceed your expectations. Rewards like a free meal, a day off, or a small bonus can have great dividends in return for you and your store.

If an analysis of your training and orientation program reveals youre already doing these things then it appears you are the common denominator in your employeessituation. Have you looked in the mirror and evaluated yourself ? Are you lacking in leadership and/or management skills? Perhaps its time to hold yourself accountable rather than blaming and cursing everyone else.

People prefer to work for leaders who care about them, respect them, inspire them, value them, and like them--not leaders who continually threaten to fire them! Its only natural, at some point, that employees will get fed up with mistreatment and disrespect and quit their jobs. And when they quit when you can least afford it, whos left filling in for them until replacements are hired? You! Well, its time to take your head out of your hands and reverse this trend.

For starters, youll find your employees will respond to you in a more positive way if you simply get to know them a little bit. Learn about their families, their likes, dislikes, wants and needs. Establish bonds by talking with them about things other than work and soon you will have improved rapport with them.

Along with bonding with your people, youll need to inspire them in a positive way by demonstrating excellent leadership skills on a daily basis. After all, when you first hire people, they dont really care much about your store other than the fact it gives them an avenue to collect a paycheck. However, in time, through effective leadership, they will begin caring if they are properly guided, respected, and cared for.

Leadership expert John Maxwell has been proclaiming for years thatEverything rises and falls on leadership. If your store is in shambles because you lack leadership skills, then its time for you to get leadership training. SkillPath is a training organization that provides in-residence, on-site, and online training in leadership and communication skills, among other topics for an affordable rate. Check out what they offer at Or you can engage in a personal reading program to self-educate yourself. A great book on leadership is John Maxwells Developing the Leader Within You. Either way you can certainly change and transform yourself into an effective leader if you sincerely desire to do so.

Wouldnt it be great to turn your store into a highly profitable operation with employees who will respect you and work hard in achieving your objectives? In little-to-no time you can do just that!

Are you someone striving to achieve your maximum potential, develop your leadership and/or management skills, enhance your professional development or self-improvement efforts, or improve your professional relationships? If so, then get advice from a proven leader and mentor. Jeff Urbaniak is a retired Air Force Chief and current Leadership Consultant with over 30 years of leadership and management experience. For an opportunity to have your issue or concern addressed in the Dear Chief column, go to and submit your comments or email them to