Sunday, May 11, 2014

LeTriece Calhoun - Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well.

Those are the opening lines to one of the best books to cross my radar in 2014. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor is the first in a trilogy about a young girl named Karou who lives in Prague, has blue hair and tattoos, and happens to have been raised by monsters.

Okay, it’s a lot more than that. Karou lives with a group of monsters who send her out all over the world to collect teeth. Teeth? What for? Well, the audience doesn’t know until Karou knows. That, I think, was the best part of this story. Often times authors will throw hints and tips along the way for the conscious reader, but Daughter of Smoke and Bone has you tagging along with Karou as she goes to art class, battles with skeevy ex-boyfriends, and gets in a fight with an angel.

Oh yeah, there are angels, too. And they’re hellbent determined to destroy Karou’s life. One angel in particular, Akiva, has a peculiar fascination with Karou, because he feels like he has met her before. She feels the same way, but his presence is a danger to her and her monster family, so Karou will do anything to protect the ones she loves. And sometimes that comes at a cost.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a beautifully written adventure. There is a romantic undercurrent, but that does not take precedence over the main story, which I really enjoyed. In fact, it intertwines with the main plot to make both aspects of the story relevant to one another. The narrative flows very well, and the action is gripping and thrilling. Each of the character is memorable, from the big ones to the small (quite literally). And there’s humor! I’m tired of “gritty” or “realistic” fiction with absolutely no humor. Give me silly jokes, simple mistakes, and snapping wit. This book has that in abundance. Karou and Akiva are not perfect characters. They have their flaws, which is why the readers should be so drawn to them. They each have a dark or questionable past, which sometimes gets told and sometimes it doesn’t. The mythology behind the angels and monsters is told in such a way that there are still some mysteries, but there’s just enough information to get readers through the story. This book is an excellent foundation to what’s turning out to be a very interesting trilogy.

If you like angels, demons, goulash, and everything between, then Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a fantastic choice. The pacing of the story makes it a quick read, so it won’t feel like you’re slogging through a leatherbound tome. But be warned: you won’t be satisfied until you’ve read the other two books in this series.

Cameron Autry - Information Wars: Crisis in Ukraine

In the post World War II era the U.S., thus far, has enjoyed global financial and military hegemony reminiscent of the former British Empire. American multinational corporations—like the East Indian Company did before—pillage the natural resources and cheap labor that CIA backed regimes in developing countries eagerly provide in exchange for wealth and power. In fact, the U.S. has overthrown democratically elected governments around the world—including Iran, Egypt, Guatemala, Chile, Nicaragua, Panama, Libya and many more—to provide American corporations with access to land and cheap labor and to allow for the U.S. military to secure strategic geopolitical pivots for defense and trade. No doubt, this is a rather appalling foreign policy, and the Western media has complicity downplayed the magnitude of these human rights violations. In regard to the Ukraine crisis, understanding this history is crucial for understanding the true motivations of the U.S..

Geopolitically speaking, Ukraine is a treasure trove. Linking Russia with Europe, vital energy resources and commodities flow through Ukraine that benefit both parties. But if the European Union absorbed Ukraine and eroded a large chunk Russia’s sphere of influence, than this symbiotic relationship would quickly turn one-sided. All commodities and resources traded through Ukraine would be bought and sold in either U.S. dollars or the Euro; IMF loans would allow American corporations to invest in Ukraine; and, in all likelihood, a few NATO bases would pop up right on Ukraine’s border with Russia. However, as usual, Western media fails to provide its viewers and listeners with this enlightening context, and has also failed to reveal the internal meddling within the Ukrainian government by the U.S..

For several years, various NGOs—such as the National Endowment for Democracy and The United States Agency for National Development (USAID—bankrolled by the U.S. federal government have spent billions of dollars “promoting democracy” throughout Ukraine—so long as such democratic representative support U.S. interests. Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, however, pursued a different agenda: the Russian agenda. Yanukovych refused to form closer ties with the EU, opting to form closer economic ties with Russia instead. So when the first wave of protests erupted in Ukraine last fall—in which genuine citizens expressed real grievances against Yanukovych—the U.S. saw the perfect moment to implement their interventionist policy in Ukraine, and use the American NGOs active in Ukraine to help bring to power those that will comply with U.S. foreign policy.

Unfortunately, America has committed to supporting any force that opposes Russian expansion and economic growth—even if this means teaming up with Neo-Nazis and Ukrainian fascists. Indeed, America has thrown all its support for the Svoboda Party in Ukraine that spearheaded the Euromaiden protests. Of course, the fact that the Svoboda embraces Neo-Nazi and fascist ideologies is of no concern to America, so long as they are inexorably anti-Russian. In fact, Senator John McCain and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland have enthusiastically posed for pictures with Oleh Tyahnybok, the leader of the Svoboda. Even CIA director John Brennan and Vice President Joe Biden have met with members from the Svoboda, and, interestingly enough, both these visits occurred right before the new Ukrainian government announced their first and second ongoing anti-terror operations. These high profile visits show that the U.S. has a special vested interest in Ukraine. And given that the CIA has, time after time, overthrown democratic governments to empower figures sympathetic towards the U.S., it would be unwise to view these events as coincidental. Cleary, the U.S. craves a pro-Western Ukraine, and it would only make sense that they would seize the current unrest in Ukraine to push forward with their own goals. Russia, on the other hand, stands to suffer enormous losses if Ukraine succumbs to Western influence.

Ukraine has long been integrated into Russian financial institutions and markets. A shift away from Russian and towards the West would undoubtedly heavily damage the Russian economy. Also, Russia could suffer the lost of its Black Sea Navy fleet, strategically located on the Crimean peninsula to provide further access into the Mediterranean Sea. Given this understanding, it should come as no surprise that Russian troops slipped into Crimea and gained control after pro-Russian protests ballooned in Crimea, a historically Russian—not Ukrainian—region. Would America allow a country supported by Moscow or Beijing to steal away strategic military real estate? Of course not, and Russia is not going to allow this to happen either. In response, Western media has lambasted the Crimean referendum to join Russia, posing the question: How can anyone legitimately vote behind the barrel of a gun? It should be noted that Western media did not ask this question when U.S. soldiers occupied Afghanistan and Iraq during crucial election periods; but as always, the Western media fails to provide this point of view. Russia cannot be seen in any sort of positive light.

Overall, America’s meddling within Ukraine has only served to provoke Vladimir Putin to take action. From a military and economic standpoint, a fully Western-integrated Ukraine would raise serious problems for Moscow. But America wants Moscow to feel these problems. As written in Wolfowitz Doctrine, the Pentagon’s defense planning guide from 1994-99:  “Our [The United States] first objective is to prevent the reemergence of a new rival.” The United States is doing every thing they can to pursue this policy. Taking a step back from the Ukraine crisis, America has slowly begun to encircle Russia—and China—with military bases to ensure neither country attempts to become a global superpower on par with the United States. Placing one more base in Ukraine, a country that shares a 2,300 kilometer border with Russia, would be the icing on the cake for NATO and the West. Let’s just hope the U.S. does not become too reckless in their provocations against Russia, and let’s hope Putin does not decide to fight back just as hard.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Ashleigh Huffman’s Study Abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina in May of 2013

 Although many know me as an English major, I am also an International Studies major. As would be expected, part of the requirements are to study abroad. In my junior year I felt the pressure to make a decision as to when and where I would be going.  I was in a pre-advising appointment when my advisor, Ms. Mathews, told me about the trip that would change my life. She and Dr. Kamenish had just put in a proposal for the second year of the Buenos Aires: Capital of Culture program. She showed me the brochure and slideshow from the year before and I was hooked.
 This trip proved to be more wonderful than what she described in her spiel that day. This trip counted as a spring course and nearly fulfilled all of my requirements for International Studies with just a two week trip. This cut costs for me considerably and made it possible for me to have a great experience abroad without making my parents hate me too much. Buenos Aires lived up to its nickname, “Paris of the Western Hemisphere.” The city is brimming with rich culture and beautiful people. We toured the city over two weeks, visiting several museums, eating in countless beautiful cafes, and seeing the most amazing cemetery in the entire world, the Recoleta cemetery. As morbid as that sounds, it turned out to be my favorite part of the trip! It hosts over 6,000 tombs, all of which are nothing like the simple headstones or mausoleums I have seen in the United States. Our tour allowed us to get a glimpse into the lives of some of the individuals and learn about the history of the nation in the process. The pictures really don’t do it justice!


There were only four of us on this trip so we were able to do a great deal of things as a group. Tango lessons were a blast! The instructors made what could be an awkward experience so much fun. We were able to visit any English major’s dream, El Ateneo. This is an old theatre that has been converted to a bookstore. We used this as a meeting place to discuss our project on Ernesto Sabato’s novel The Tunnel, which we adapted into a graphic novel together. That experience really allowed us to delve into the book and pick it apart, one of the things English majors love the most! We also spent some time reading literary works of Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cort├ízar as well as the art of Xul Solar.

Overall, this experience abroad changed my entire outlook on not only Argentine culture but my own cultural experience as an American. Seeing the differences between the two allowed for me to grow as a person and better understand life outside the bubble I came from in small town North Carolina. It also forced me to use my shaky Spanish skills, which I am forever grateful for. This particular program is going on again this spring and I know that those students will have the time of their lives! I could go on for days about this experience and if anyone wants to hear more about it, feel free to contact me. Anyone interested in being a part of the program in the future can also contact Dr. Kamenish or Ms. Mathews. I know they would be excited to speak with you!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Hillora Lang - The Journey of My Lifetime: England, Ireland, and Scotland

[Click the link: "Read More" to continue reading about Hillora's Wentworth trip]

It was a rather complex set of influences which led to my experiences abroad, on the first time that I have traveled overseas. Having been severely limited in my social and experiential life by the developmental disability Asperger Syndrome, I had never considered that I might be able to travel to the places I dreamed of seeing since I was a child. In the spring of 2012 I changed my program at UNCW to a double-major in Creative Writing and English, and learned about the Wentworth Fellowship, which enabled English majors and minors to travel abroad on a research trip. Suddenly, I felt that it was time to confront my limitations and see if I could overcome them once again, as I have done many times already; simply by starting college, finishing two two-year degrees, transferring to UNCW, and achieving academic success beyond anything I had imagined myself capable of, I had proved that I could do just about anything I set my mind to.


Friday, February 28, 2014

Sigma Tau Delta Annual Convention, Savannah (Words from your Secretary)

The hotel we're staying at. This is the convention location too!

Hey Sigmas!

We are having a fabulous time in Savannah so far. Kathleen and I arrived on Friday and spent the night at the Opening Event. We had the chance to hear Alison Bechdel give a reading. She was hilarious! Kathleen read her graphic memoir, Fun Home, in a previous class. I'm definitely interested in looking at her work after this.

A slide from Bechdel's reading

After a long day of driving, we grabbed dinner at One Eyed Lizzy's.


Renee arrived late last night, and Ms. Sumerel and Ellen arrived today! We're so happy to start the first full day of the conference. We set up our Outstanding Chapter display and attended the Scholarships and Awards Ceremony. We were one of two chapters present who received the Outstanding Chapter Award! Thanks to all the hard work and effort each member puts into being a part of this chapter. Also, a major shoutout to Ellen Watts for creating a winning application for the award.

All of us with the Outstanding Chapter Award
Next up was Kathleen's chair session. She did a great job with her panel: Gender in the 19th Century South. After her session, we watched Ms. Sumerel moderate for the panel: Encountering the Other in Film. So many great presenters and papers!

Then we attended the Regional Networking session. We had the opportunity to meet others from the Southern region, including the student representatives. We also found out we won a Common Reader Award for our Coming of Age Roundtable Discussion from last month! Wow...great job everyone!

We couldn't wait to eat dinner after such an eventful day. We ate at Spanky's and decided to call it an early night to prepare for another busy day on Friday.


Ms. Sumerel had an early morning with an 8:00AM panel she was the moderator for. This panel was titled: Twentieth Century Literature. Then Ms. Sumerel, Kathleen, and Ellen attended the Business Session and Regional Caucuses. I walked by the Chapter Merchandise Sales and saw some great t-shirts. One shirt said, "Sherlock is my Holmes boy." Another shirt read, "Cool story, Poe." :-D Unfortunately, when I went back later to purchase one they were all sold out...such a bummer. Moral of the story: If you go to the convention next year make sure you buy your shirts really early.

Renee presented her paper, "The Beats Move On," in the Contemporary American Literature panel. She did a fantastic job!

Renee presenting her paper

Next, I presented my paper, "Children of the Pedro Pan Airlift: Impact on Relationships," in the Latin American Literature panel. I was nervous about the Q&A session but we had great questions and a great discussion between the panelists. Our practice session last month really helped a lot. Thanks to all of you who were able to offer us advice and help us prepare.

At the Regional Networking session we met a Sigma who is here from the University of Alabama- Huntsville and she is the only one here from her chapter. We ran into her again today and she attended my session. She joined us for a nice dinner at the Pirates' House.

The Mango Chili Glazed Salmon...yum!


One more day in Savannah! We didn't have any presentations or sessions scheduled for today, so we explored more of the city. Moon River Brewing Company was our choice for lunch. We found Savannah's City Market and spent some time in the shops. My favorite places from the day were Savannah's Candy Kitchen and the Savannah Bee Company. The candy shop had free samples of milk chocolate pecan fudge. Savannah Bee Company had free samples of honey and it was all delicious! I couldn't help buying some to bring home. My favorite is the Orange Blossom (the Winter White is a close second). We also caught a glimpse of a wedding that just ended by the river.

After a day of walking around the city, we went back to the hotel to drop off our shopping bags and to rest before our last dinner in Savannah.

Final notes:

The convention has been an incredible experience! I highly recommend submitting papers and trying to be a part of the next one, which will be in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Savannah, Georgia has been one of the friendliest cities I've been to. The people at the hotel were always hospitable and willing to help us in any they could--offering tips on the best restaurants and telling us the best spots to explore. This week has been filled with great papers, scholars, literary discussion, and fun adventures in one of the oldest cities in Georgia.