Monday, 29 February 2016

READS: February's Graphic Novels

These monthly round ups of my graphic novels are fast becoming one of my favorite regular posts and it's been great to receive such positive feedback them the last couple of months or so.

So let's get to the point - here is February's round up by starting off with my favorite read of the month!

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
Remember all those bedtime stories of your childhood featuring mystical and eerie dark woods? Of lurking shapes, unexpected happenings and the abyss? 

Well Through the Woods perfectly captures that horror, that mystery through the five unsettling tales that come to make up this graphic novel. Every tale ends on a cliffhanger which forces your mind into overdrive for hours after. As for the art work, it's as fantastic and as creepy as the tales themselves.

I'm not normally spooked by books, but yeah this one made me feel a little jumpy afterwards. 

Sisters (Smile #2) by Raina Telgemeier
After reading and loving Smile by Telgemeier, I set out to read some more of her works. As the sequel to Smile, Sisters features Raina and her relationship with her little sister Amara. A sister she longed for yet their relationship has always been tense. Set during a family road trip from San Francisco through the Colorado Rockies for a family reunion, tension between their parents and a the addition of a baby brother. 

Being an only child, I can't relate or speak to how well Raina speaks of sibling relationships but it was still an engaging read. The ending was a little flat with lots of things hanging in the air, but I'm hoping the story will continue in the future.

The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam by Anne Marie Flemming
I have to admit to not having a clue who Long Tack Sam - one of China's greatest magicians was when picking up this book. Born in 1885, Sam went onto become a magician, a key act in vaudeville, a restaurant owner, to world traveler in case you didn't know either.

Now his great granddaughter brings his life to color in this graphic memoir, pretty much a companion to the documentary of the same subject. Which is part of the problem. While I really loved the addition of photographs of Sam and his act, his family etc, stills from the documentary were blurry, still covered with the documentary subtitles. The author herself admits to not being good at drawing so we're left with stick fingers It felt messy and rushed. The story and life of Sam was very interesting to read, but I feel it would have been better has a straight forward non fiction biography.

How to be Happy by Eleanor Davis  
First things first, the various forms of artwork in this graphic novel is phenomenal, from pencil drawings to lush watercolors, it all brings you right into each of the short (some very short) tales that comprise How to be Happy. But that's where all this positive talk ends. Some tales felt far too obscure that they just didn't make sense, it lacked a sense of flow and felt very disjointed throughout. 

Weeks on, I still don't really know what to think about this book. It seemed to be missing a point - (maybe that is the point)?! Even the author narrates that the book is not about how to be happy. Hmmm.

Drama by Raina Telgemeier 
This happens to be one of those teen graphic novels that is matched with a lot of controversy for featuring a gay character. The book isn't about being gay, it's not even the main character who happens to be gay. Because apparently teens shouldn't be reading about such things ... but if you have trouble finding this book, that might be why.

Anyways, so this is my second Telgemier book within one review - (you can tell I really like her work can't you?!) about purple haired Callie (so jealous of her hair) - one of the set designers for her schools drama production who comes to struggle with production wise, friendship challenges and boys. It's a great little humorous graphic novel, full of wonderfully vivid artwork, a diverse cast and a nice little story line. 

Lumberjanes Vol 1. (#1-4) Beware the Kitty Holy by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Broke A. Allen and Marta Laiho

I'll openily admit to sneaking Lumberjanes into this lot of reviews. I know there's not too much of a clear line between comics & graphic novels, but I've been trying to keep them separate*. My justification is reading Lumberjanes in the volume format. Anyway to the important details - The Miss Quinzilla Thiskwin Penniquiqual Thistle Crumpet's (how awesome is that for a name!) summer camp is the setting for five best friends and all their adventures. Think coming across three eyed foxes in the middle of the night, falling into caves and supernatural animals.  If you're a fan of Nimona - plot and style (also by Noelle Stevenson) you'll love this tale, it's funny, it's engaging and cute, plus it's filled with rad artwork. I can't wait to pick up volume 2!

So that was my graphic novel reading for February, read any? Loved, liked, hated any of them?


*otherwise I would be swamped with reviews and you would all be yawning at your screen. But if you're interested my favorite monthly comic book reads are Ms Marvel, Captain Marvel, Spider Gwen, Pasty Walker AKA Hellcat and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. You can tell I'm a Marvel fan can't ya?! Maybe that's all a post for another day ...

Thursday, 25 February 2016

FOOD: Mad Hatter Afternoon Tea

All things Alice in Wonderland greet you once you step inside Birmingham's Mad Hatter bar and bistro. From the doorknobs, to walls of mirrors, clocks and the red & black upholstery and furniture throughout, you'll feel like you just fell down a rabbit hole and earned yourself a spot for some delicious afternoon tea for your troubles. 

It has been far, far too long since our last afternoon tea adventure to The Whitney and after coming across Mad Hatter on a visit to Birmingham in December, the bar and bistro ended up on our to try list. Feeling a little homesick, Joe booked us a reservation for afternoon tea a couple of weeks ago. 

Everything Mad Hatter is very whimsical but without going too overboard. Table are adorned with pretty mismatched tea cups and saucers. Tea is presented in quirky teapots and food is severed upon traditional three tier serving platter to round things off. 

With our teacups filled with hot cinnamon spice tea, it was time to dig in. We started with the traditional finger sandwiches (think cucumber with minted cream cheese, artichoke, smoked salon and caper - my favorite and roasted pepper and hummus) all small, but all very filling.

Now, as with my fish and chips adventures in the US, I always love to see how the US takes on and caters British food traditions to the American market. Scones being one of them - because you know as Brits, we're rather picky about them. According to the menu the scones presented are the choice of the chef, we were served chocolate chip and poppy seed. Probably not something you'd see on traditional afternoon tea back in the homeland. Served with mascarpone cheese and lemon curd, I have to be honest, they were delicious and make a nice change from the norm. 

To finish things off, the top tier was filled with wonderfully cut and presented fresh fruits surrounding a selection of cakes - chocolate brownies, lemon tarts and a wonderful Oreo dessert.

Everything is served with your choice of tea. With fourteen regular teas, alongside decaf there's probably something for everyone from the Mad House Blend, Chocolate Mint to say Chinese Flower to name but a few. We even purchased a caddy of the Hot Cinnamon Spice to take home with us it was so delicious. Even better, you can try multiple tea blends throughout your stay. 

For $24 per person, you'd be hard pressed to find something so delicious and well serviced (our server was both friendly and very attentive throughout our stay). The venue is also a bistro and bar and it has me very tempted to return, for more tea drinking and the rest of their menu. 

Plus anywhere with a chandelier comprised of tea cups and spoons is a winner in my book. 

Mad Hatter Bistro: 185 N. Woodward Ave, Birmingham, MI 48009. 
Afternoon tea by reservation 11am - 3pm. 

Are you a fan of afternoon tea?


Monday, 22 February 2016

LIFE: Photo an Hour February 2016

Saturday marked an unseasonably warm winters day here in the depths of suburbia of Detroit. Somewhat welcome after long cold days, of being able to put aside the hat, the gloves, get outside in the garden, sadly these things never seem to last. The day also marked February's photo an hour link up - a somewhat routine Saturday for us after taking a break from the DIY in the bathroom fix up (mainly because we can't decide on what to do with the floor). So what else did we get up to inside of playing adults ...

With blue skies overheard, waking up to birdsong and temperature not in the minus numbers, 9am was looking rather pretty as we started up the car and headed forth for a morning of hitting some state sales. By 10am were we'd hit a couple of estate sales including one in which the second floor was just full of vintage clothing from the last century - dresses, purses, sweaters, shoes to linens, you name it. I had to resist buying all the scarves - a big weakness of mine.

But I did buy two of the scarves, so 12pm was seeing me giving them a bit of a wash. I often seem to miss an hour during the day, 11am was that, I think we were heading home with hungry tummies, too hungry to snap a picture of nothingness. After a quick lunch and cleaning the scarves, it was time to make the most of the unseasonable weather (1pm) and have a quick tidy up in the garden and spotting some life in the process.

With estate sales done, chores done and the gardening done, time to get stitching. I've been working on this seaside piece for a couple of months and it always reminds me of quaint seaside towns of the homeland. So sofa, cross stitching and going between Hulu and Netflix was the plans for the afternoon. Once 3pm came around, it was time for a brew - hot cinnamon spice tea. Delicious.  

4pm yeap, still stitching ... until 5pm rolled around and the hungry tummies returned. Too hungry to say no to Taco Bell. Another of those weaknesses.

Still sofa bound and trapped under a purring kitty and reading some more of The Unlikely Event that you might remember me mentioning in Thursday's small things post. Over half way through and it's turning into quite the page turner. I missed 7pm sweating away exercising away to Daily Burn which no one needs to see a picture of. Which lead to 8pm and digging my way through my kitted up cross stitch projects wondering which one to add into my rotation. It took me until Sunday to finally decide on a UK themed design. Seriously picking between cross stitch projects is far too hard. 

The rest of the night was pretty much cheap wine, anime and more reading.

It's great having a nice back catalog of photo an hour link ups so I can look back on what we were doing last year for the link up - a day of record store poking, bacon sarnies and of course Taco Bell.

How was your Saturday?


Thursday, 18 February 2016

LIFE: Small Things #10

The lighter evenings are starting to appear and oh my, do they make me wish and long for spring even more. To be able to push open the windows, see daffodils starting to drop their brightly colored heads in the breeze and awaking to morning birdsong. Michigan winters make those days feel so far away. Granted our winter this year hasn't been as cold, or as snowy, but there's only so many days in the minus numbers I can handle although it's always the perfect excuse to curl up on the sofa with the TV remote and a good book. 

In other news various happy things, and somewhat a sneak peek of things I'll eventually get around to sharing here on the blog;
  • Lovely five day long weekend extending into Presidents Day with the OH although it always does result in me being confused about the day of the week afterwards. Right now I have no idea if it's Wednesday or Friday ... when it's actually Thursday.
  • Gorgeous afternoon tea at the Mad Hatter Bistro and Tearoom in Birmingham (review to come).
  • The last week or so has actually been all about tea - afternoon tea, buying some fancy spiced cinnamon tea, Persian tea. All the tea.
  • Seeing Deadpool early Friday morning. The humor was right up my street and it was a brilliant adaption of the comic book. Villains were a little on the weak side but I'll get over that. Also probably features the best Stan Lee cameo. 
  • Also public service announcement - stay to the end of Deadpool, because you know, extra scenes and all. I'll never understand people leaving early ...
  • Speaking of spring I may have spotted some bulbs poking up in the back garden - I also may be really wrong and they are just weeds. Or now dead because of the chilly week we just had. 
  • Rushing out to buy a load of wings from Detroit Wing Co., after hearing your favorite radio hosts (Valenti & Foster on 97.1 The Ticket - yes oddly enough my favorite radio hosts are on a sports talk station - what is happening to me?!) talking about chicken wings for four hours.  Four flipping hours, who couldn't say no to wings after four sodding hours?!
  • Mexican hot chocolate treat for our adulting ongoing DIY adventures from Cafe Con Leche.
  • Waving at my favorite Detroit building while drinking that Mexican hot chocolate - the Fisher Building. Gorgeous.  
  • Stitching a little wild flower seed packet design for a forthcoming birthday card.
  • Reading two awesome books - The Boston Girl and The Turner House - both I'd highly recommend. 
  • I'll probably say the same about Judy Blume's In The Unlikely Event which I've just started reading. 70 odd pages in and very intriguing. 
  • Oh and lots of graphic novels but I'll get to that in my monthly graphic novels review dump don't you fear. (*whispers*) it features - Through The Woods, Lumberjanes and Sisters.
  • Finally getting all that stubborn old bathroom floor tile up, hammered out some concrete and replaced some floorboards. Getting overwhelmed with all this adulting points atm. We even hired a nail gun and didn't kill ourselves in the process of using it.
  • Paczki Day! Joe sneaked out early on Fat Tuesday/Shove Tuesday to grab some paczki's from Dutch Girl Donuts. Delicious! What's a paczki you ask?! Well I talked about them a couple of years ago.
  • Signing up for Daily Burn (a fitness workout over the internet, TV whatever you got - if you have Hulu you'll probably know their annoying adverts about leg day) and actually using it somewhat regularly. 
That's probably the most bullet points of happiness I may have ever achieved on my small things posts. Does help I'm bullet pointing three things daily that made me happy in that mission to work and overcome my stress issues. Ah well happy days indeed. 

How are things with you?


Thursday, 11 February 2016

BOOKS: The Start Where You Are Journal

If I could sum up my intentions for 2016 it would be restful. Especially restful in mind. For the last ten years, perhaps more I've had a brain that won't much to my increasing despair stop thinking, panicking, overthinking, stop. 

I stumbled across Meera Lee Petal's Start Where You Are Journal while flicking through page after page of books claiming to solve all my problems. Perhaps it was the gorgeous cover, the bold colors, but probably more of the notion of opening the pages and starting that quest for mindfulness and "self exploration" finally ticked the box.

The journal is comprised of around 50 or so questions, suggestions, projects and the like, each with it's own bold and wonderfully colorized water-colored illustrated quotations from Thomas Jefferson, Roald Dahl to Shakespeare and other figures, writers and artists alike. And while I'm not someone who is big on quotations, they all seem fitting to the following work page. Such questions and prompts as drawing self portraits using colours and patterns, coloring in world maps to listing sources of happiness are designed to set you upon the path of navigating the daily chaos that is life. 

The questions and projects are simple enough that you don't feel like you're digging too deep in learning about ourselves. In fact it's a very quiet and completative journal, it's simple in reminding us that by taking the time to spend five or so minutes to come to know ourselves better, we're not only appreciating the world, our dreams but ourselves.

Which is probably why, after several weeks I'm still working my way though my self-exploration, unlike other previous journaling attempts. Which for me, is a bit of a big deal and the reason why i'm even sharing it on my blog. I'm not normally one to take stock, reflect, like I mentioned, I'm not a restful kind of person. But this journal, fitting in the prompts, reflecting on the quotations, it's helping me get there. 

What is your journaling story?


Monday, 8 February 2016

CREATIVE: A Room Without Books

Hunting around estate sales all the time, I often come across random old pieces and bits I gather to add to my craft collection. Basically a box of random odds and ends might one day might find a purpose and use. A couple of pages of perforated plastic being such a random thing. Perforated plastic seemed to be the tend of 1980's crafting, people would make magnets, tissue box covers, bookends you name it. It wasn't until I re-found a design for a bookmark stitched on such a plastic I thought about giving it a go myself and finding a more modern use for it.

The design, which originally appealed in the October 2014 edition of Cross Stitch Collection, was stitched upon black plastic with all white text. Unfortunately with my plastic being see-through there was a need to stitch in a background but also gave the perfect excuse to go through my thread scraps and get colorful. 

So my first cross stitch project of 2016 became a lesson in perforated plastic stitching of a quote to appeal to my bookworm and hoarder side. I have to admit, for such a small design it demanded more attention that I would have originally thought. Also stitching on plastic is apparently a bit of a pain, it turned out to be much more "floppy" than stitching on fabric and there is the added fun of it's ability to start snapping and breaking. Which it did, twice. So it's not perfect, it's been super-glued back in place at one point, but I was too invested with it at that point to give up. That and I still like how it turned out. 

Oh and that quote - "a room without books is like a body without a soul" is just an awesome excuse to decorate the house with books, don't you think?!

What have you been crafting lately?


Friday, 5 February 2016

LIFE: Small Things #9

This last week or so has been all about adulting (whether you love or loath that term). From fixing a slump pump to trying to fix a wobbly toilet it's all been a bit challenging of late. So while little things can caused the biggest frustrations but then on the flip of a coin, they can be the happiest.

  • This clip of the new arrival at the Toledo Zoo - the cutest little polar bear cub. Hopefully we'll make a trip down to see it once spring arrives.
  • Working on my "Start where you are" journal.
  • Starting and being hooked into a new (to me) anime show - Inuyasha. It's one of those anime with hundreds and hundreds of episodes so I've got something to entertain me for a long while.
  • Getting my Stress-Less Workbook, stress being an odd thing to be happy about but hopefully working through this workbook might help me deal with this thing that is taking over too much of my life.
  • Smashing up 1950's stubborn bathroom mosaic floor tile is very theraputic, even if it turns my arms into jelly and you only make slow progress. It's actually kinda sad to be turning it up but it's seen better days. 
  • Which has all meant learning some more DIY, kinda looking forward to laying some new tiles I will be honest even though I have no clue about tile laying.
  • Agent Carter being back on the screen - one of my favorite shows.
  • Making two awesome new recipes this week - a chicken chili in the slow cooker (so handy this winter) and a mushroom tofu curry, equally delicious. 
  • Cross stitching some more of "Flossie" (the lady cross stitcher) for the first time since before Christmas and longing for lighter days to cram more stitching in.
  • Coming home from the library with a pile of books. 
  • Lots of kitty cuddles and purrs.
  • Having beautiful handwritten recipes falling out between the pages of vintage cookbooks (always a winner). 
  • Finishing my first cross stitch project of 2016 - another bookmark - you can't have too many.
  • Watching our cats being excited by empty boxes and new paper bags to play with and in. 

How is everything with you?


Monday, 1 February 2016

READS: Janurary's Graphic Novels

After all the great comments (thank you muchly) from sharing my favorite graphic novels I read in 2015, I thought I would turn it into a monthly feature. Like I mentioned previously, knowing where to start with graphic novels can be a little daunting, and whether you've never picked one up or you're a seasoned reader, maybe you'll welcome some more suggestions to add into your reading list.

Each month, I'll feature one, or like this month, perhaps a couple of my favorite graphic novel read and everything else I came across. This time we're actually getting started two graphic novels that Joe brought me for Christmas. He's awesome in getting the memo to add to my collection.

Read(s) of the Month;

Lady Killer by Joelle Jones & Jamie S. Rich

Enter Jose the quintessential 1950's American housewife, cooking the meals, looking after the children and being the prefect wife. She has, on the surface the perfect life. But a life that has a hidden dark side, Jose happens to also be a killer for hire. But what happens when someone happens to want the killer killed?!

Lady Killer is on point for a number of reasons, the artwork, the gritty dark humor and the plot leaves you craving more and more with the turn of every page. Not to mention lusting over Jose's killer wardrobe. 

I long for news that Jose will make an appearance in another series. As someone who spends a lot of time between the pages of many a 1950's cookbook finding them new homes, it's often easy to wonder about the lives of such a housewife, even better to daydream about their naughty side. In fact I loved this novel so much, Jose was my phone wallpaper for a while (before going back to Dragonball Z's Bulma, she has my heart).

The New Deal by Jonathan Case

Dark Horse publishers were on point with their late 2015 graphic novels, alongside Lady Killer, The New Deal saw it's release. Set during Depression hit New York is the backdrop to glamorous hotel (the Waldorf Astoria no less) based crime novel. When Nina, our beautiful and charming fem fatale checks in for a stay sparkles a series of mysterious jewellery thefts most felt by the bellhop, Frank and Theresa, a maid. 

Admittedly the 1930's is my favorite era of history and The New Deal is a great glimpse into the race relations and class misconceptions of the time. All too quickly are the employees blamed for the thefts particularly Theresa, the black maid who happens to be in my perspective more of the lead protagonist than Nina.

And the rest;
This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki

Spanning a vacation to Awago Beach, This One Summer captures Rose a girl on the verge of teen-hood and battling with her parents constant fighting. Meeting up with Windy - the sister Rose never had they find themselves entangled in local secrets . 

The artwork in This One Summer is what sets this book apart - monochromatic in it's purpley blues and whites it's simple but eyecatchingly detailed and really pulls you in and brings everything to life. But the plot, well that's the one down side, it plods along not really doing much of anything. By the end, I was actually wondering what the purpose behind sharing this story was. Because for a summer of personal growth, firsts and exploration, I don't particularly think either of the two girls particularly changed.

Taken from a webcomic AD [...] depicts the horrors and humanity faced by six survivors of Hurricane Katina when it hit New Orleans in 2005. Featuring the real experiences of a doctor drinking it up in the French Quarter,  Denise, who faced surviving in the Superdome and Abbas battling to keep alive and braving the storm on the roof of his store AD [...] follows it's characters through the hurricane to it's aftermath and lingering effects years later.  

AD brings to life the human tale, of making last minute decisions between staying or evacuating. Of political decisions and of the ultimate power of Mother nature. Speaking with survivors and those facing the hurricane on the ground, Neufeld challenges the misconceptions of black thugs, rape and murder, instead showing the positive human actions particularly within the Superdome which made little headlines after the disaster which makes well worth a read.

 Fun Home - A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

Alongside Are You My Mother?, Bechdel's adult graphic novel Fun Home is often a graphic novel you'll find upon those "must" read lists. Sadly I just couldn't get into it. It was perhaps a bit too repetitive, the narrative flies around, it felt labored, far from engaging and left me irritated.

Fun Home happens to be a graphic memoir, one depicting Bechdel's relationship with her late father. The author sets about exploring the legacy of having a closeted father, and who may or may not have killed himself soon after she came out as gay in college. 

In honestly, it's not often I finish a book not really caring about it. But this was one of them. 

What have you been reading lately?