Kelly Amber Reads: Ready Player One

I finally finished Ready Player One by Ernest Cline the other day. Dad has been begging me to read Ready Player One for forever and well, sometimes people telling me to read something makes me less willing to read it—especially now that I don’t go through books as fast as I used to (I know, I know, that’s on me but TV is just so much easier) and I want to save the time I do spend reading on books that I’ve chosen. But with Ready Player One making its way to the big screen this year I finally caved.

For those who are unfamiliar with this title, Ready Player One is set in a dystopian future where the global economy and environment have completely collapsed due to severe overpopulation. The only escape people have from this horrible reality is the OASIS—a vast virtual reality online game with literal universes full of things to do. When James Halliday—the creator of the OASIS—dies he leaves behind a video will stating that his vast wealth as well as complete control over the OASIS are to be given to the first person to complete a massive virtual scavenger hunt by following the clues Halliday left scattered throughout the OASIS. Eighteen-year-old Wade Watts, known in the OASIS as Parzival, is the first person to solve the first clue and successfully claim the copper key in the five years since Halliday’s death. Now, it’s a race to finish the quest and in the midst of it all Wade finds himself targeted by an evil multi-billion dollar corporation bent on winning the quest and destroying everything that makes the OASIS the last safe haven in a dying world.

I haven’t seen the movie yet so I’m not sure how well it turned out, but my main thought about this book is that it would make a better movie than it does a book. Of course, there’s the fact that today’s special effects should make all of Cline’s amazing world-building in regards to the OASIS really come to life on the big screen, but the main reason I think it would make a better movie than book is that the book is so exposition heavy. Yes, most of the exposition is necessary stuff like world-building, background on Halliday, etc. but there’s just so much of it—the first six chapters especially were a pain and a half to get through—that it bogs down the plot and it sometimes felt like Cline sacrificed the action in favor of explaining every single little 80’s reference in great detail. Movies don’t really have this problem. With movies, any necessary exposition has to happen through dialogue or events happening in the background of a scene or through cinematography so it’s a lot harder to get bogged down by all the details. Plus, the overwhelming plethora of 80’s references that fill the novel would all just be fun Easter eggs throughout the movie rather than things that stop the plot every time they appear so that the author/narrator can make sure the audience understands just how cool something is. Don’t get me wrong; Ready Player One was overall an enjoyable read I just think that its fun action-filled plot would benefit from a medium that allows that action-filled plot to shine instead of burying it under all of the other details that the novel seemed to get distracted by. But I guess I’ll just have to wait till the movie comes out on iTunes to see if I’m right.

Pokémon TCG: A Test of Resilience

Last week, my friend Jake taught me how to play the Pokémon Trading Card Game. I know, I know, how can a self-proclaimed obsessed fan of Pokémon not know how to play the TCG? Don’t get me wrong, I do have a decent collection of Pokémon cards in a binder on my bookshelf at home but it’s exactly that, a collection–meant to look at and feel nostalgic not meant for playing purposes. Fun fact about me, never get me started on collecting anything, I will lose all impulse control and it will be a problem. Case in point, my collection of more than 100 Funko Pop figures currently packed away in a box somewhere because there simply isn’t space for all of them in my room right now. Anyway, the point is that no, I’ve never played the actual trading card game–although my friend Vicki and I used to make up our own rules for the game in elementary school because we thought the real way was too complicated…but I guess that probably doesn’t count.

Turns out the real game wasn’t nearly as complicated as I remember but then again I’m not ten anymore either. That’s not to say the game went well, however. I lost. Badly. We played three or four games and I couldn’t even come sort of close to beating Jake in any of them. He obliterated me. It was embarrassing. Now, I don’t consider myself a competitive person because while I always try my best to win, losing almost never bothers me. But this? this irked me. Maybe it’s because I see myself as something of a Pokémon expert and losing so badly felt a little like being exposed as an imposter. But it’s not like I’m all that competitive in Pokémon either, I enjoy the games for the collecting aspect and for the story I don’t take part in the online competitive battles so while I consider myself an expert I have no illusions of being–as Ash Ketchum would call it–a Pokémon Master as far as battling or strategy go. Still, losing to Jake bothered me. So I went home and downloaded the TCG app onto my iPad in order to hone my skills and prepare myself for a rematch I refused to lose. I’m proud to say that my training–combined with an entirely different deck–paid off big time. I won each of the three rematch games. As silly as it sounds, it was a win I really needed. It felt good to be reminded that sometimes you just need to get up when you fall and make sure you come back stronger than you were.

Zoo Day

(Photo credit to my dad @kenhammond on Instagram)

 

It probably comes as no shock to you at this point that I am a major animal lover. Fuzzy, feathered, or scaly it doesn’t matter, I adore them all–to the point where for most of my childhood I wanted to be a vet or a dolphin trainer or a zookeeper–so the Nashville Zoo is something I’ve been wanting to do since we moved here in July but I haven’t had the chance until now. The past couple weeks my grandparents have been visiting from California which means we’ve been taking them on the usual Nashville tourist haunts: Civil War sites, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, the Parthenon and, my favorite, the Nashville Zoo. Of course, being from SoCal, I’ve grown up with some pretty amazing zoos such as the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Wild Animal Park, and LA Zoo, and while the Nashville Zoo was nowhere near as big as those and didn’t have nearly as many different animals–big cats are my favorites so I was a little disappointed that all the Nashville Zoo had were clouded leopards that I didn’t get to see because they weren’t out when I was there, and a couple cougars–it was still a really neat little zoo. My favorite animal that they had there (that I actually got to see anyway) were the red pandas. They were so fluffy and adorable and I’ve never wanted to sneak into an exhibit and steal an animal (or at least play with them till security dragged me away kicking and screaming) more in my life…I resisted the urge, obviously, pretty sure you’d have seen me on the news if I hadn’t. Still, they were beyond cute. My favorite experience, however, was definitely the kangaroo exhibit. Any exhibit where I get to touch a fuzzy animal is going to be an instant favorite for me so the kangaroo exhibit at the Nashville Zoo where you’re allowed to touch the roo’s (so long as they’re within reach of the path you have to stay on) won me over pretty quick. I mean I can now say I’ve pet a kangaroo–which was so much softer than I expected btw–how cool is that! Now if I can just find a zoo that’ll let me pet a red panda…

Reptiles, Coatis, and Hedgehogs Oh My!

So last weekend my parents and I went to the Nashville Exotic Pet Expo because we wanted to look at hedgehogs. I’ve been to Pet Expos back when we lived in California but I’d never been to an exotic pet show before and it was so cool! There were so many different and amazing animals,  some of them I got to touch and others I just got to look at, some were for sale and others were just being shown off by their proud pet parents. I tried to take a lot of pictures but I couldn’t get pictures of everything. There were a bunch of snakes and a ton of lizards including iguanas and chameleons and some amphibians like frogs and axolotls. On the more fuzzy and cuddly side of things there were the expected animals like bunnies and hedgehogs and sugar gliders but also some crazy things like a baby fennec fox, monkeys, baby ring-tailed lemurs, and cutest of all a baby coatimundi–a South American cousin of the raccoon that I’m glad wasn’t for sale because I’m pretty sure all three of us would’ve had a really hard time not buying it. We went in search of hedgehogs because I’ve wanted one for a while now–and I even got to hold a baby hedgehog it was so tiny and shy!–but as an animal lover the entire show was just a really cool experience and I wanted to take home pretty much every animal I saw. Although I went in thinking I wanted a hedgehog, my favorite animals at the show–other than the coati–actually ended up being the sugar gliders. They were so cute and soft and the ones at this one booth just wanted to climb all over their people and sleep in their shirts and pockets and while I definitely need to do some serious research first, the people at the booth made them seem like great, loving pets. I wonder what the cats would think.

Musical Shenanigans

Hey guys, instead of a Town Line Tuesday this week I wanted to finally post something I’ve been struggling to finish for a while now about one of my all time favorite TV tropes—the musical episode (What’s not to love about watching your favorite characters spontaneously burst into song for seemingly no reason at all?)—I also want to try to post some flash fiction later this week and we’ll get back to our regularly scheduled Town Line Tuesday next week. Anyway, a few weeks ago one of my current TV show obsessions—SyFy’s The Magicians—came out with its version of the musical episode and it got me thinking about all of my favorite musical TV shenanigans. I thought about watching them all over again to see how The Magicians stacked up against them but including Magicians that’s seven hours I simply don’t have. Still, if I were to rate them from good to best, I think it would look something like this. (A/N: These are all the musical episodes I have seen—or at least all the ones I remember. Also, most of these are over a year old but since The Magicians is on this list I should warn you that this is in no way spoiler free so if you want to avoid spoilers stop reading now.)

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Baxter

Meet Baxter, my new fuzzy friend. Baxter and I have been hanging out for the past week while his mom and dad were out-of-town for their oldest daughter’s wedding. He’s a tiny little guy and even though in my experience the tinier the dog the more hyper they are, Baxter is probably the most laid-back dog I’ve ever met. He follows me around the house like a shadow with irresistible puppy-dog eyes, curls up with me on the couch and takes over the bed at night. He’s quieter and more cuddly than my cats. Smaller too.

Like my cats, Baxter has no idea how to play fetch. Apparently his idea of fetch is I throw the ball once, he chases after it, and then I chase him around the living room trying to get it back until I collapse from exhaustion. For one with such short legs he’s quite a speedy little fellow. Keeping up with him on walks has been a somewhat challenging exercise but has been great for clearing my head of all the noise my life seems to be filled with these days.

The past week has given me some much-needed alone time and I couldn’t have asked for a better companion in solitude than little Baxter, I’ll be sad to say goodbye tonight. Still, I’m ready to go home, see my cats (and my parents), and sleep in my own bed again.

The Search

 

One of my biggest goals since moving to Tennessee has been to seek out the best Mexican food Music City has to offer, a task that, as a California girl, I set upon with equal parts enthusiasm and trepidation (Pros: finding new places to eat is always fun. Cons: no offense to any Southerners reading this but I didn’t know what to expect from whatever passed for tacos in Nashville). I haven’t tried nearly as many places as I would like—I pretty much have to save my Mexican food adventures for whenever it’s just Mom and I—but I feel like I’ve gotten a pretty good sample size thus far.

 

Fogatas

Yelp has quickly become my best friend on this journey to find all the best restaurants my new home has to offer and when it comes to Mexican food I rely pretty much exclusively on the app to tell me which places are worth trying. When I came across Fogatas while scrolling through Yelp, I was quickly swayed by its four-star rating and almost-exclusively-good reviews that raved about the place. So Mom and I excitedly went to lunch… and were seriously disappointed. I ordered a lunch combo of a chicken enchilada and a chicken taco (don’t ask me to tell you what Mom had, I barely remember what I had for breakfast this morning—or for lunch a couple of months ago as the case may be—let alone what someone else had) and it was fine, I guess, it certainly wasn’t bad anyway but I don’t know it just kind of lacked flavor and considering I had just read these raving reviews it just didn’t live up to the hype. Now, this was at their newer location about a week or two after they had opened and many of the reviews referred to their original location so it’s possible that it was just a case of a new restaurant working out the kinks. Still, with so many places left on the never-ending list to try, it didn’t inspire any desire to try again any time soon.

 

Las Brisas

Las Brisas was not a Yelp find but a place that we found while driving and impulsively decided to try. Overall, it was a better experience than Fogatas, the chips and salsa were good and I ordered a combo of a chicken enchilada and a carne asada taco. Flavor-wise it was pretty good—better than Fogatas though not nearly as good as other places I’ve tried either in California or here in Nashville—however, the ridiculously small portion sizes ruined it for me. While it’s true that sometimes Mexican food—particularly sit-down (as opposed to fast/counter order) which is what Las Brisas is—can be almost too much food at times with large portion sizes of heavy carb-loaded food plus rice and beans plus the chips and salsa before the meal, but a single street taco and one tiny enchilada that was barely bigger than the street taco is just not enough food when you’re paying the same price you’d pay for a huge meal at another restaurant.

 

Bajo Sexto

When I visited Nashville a few months before I moved here, I found a small counter-order taco place called Bajo Sexto in downtown Nashville that looked and smelled amazing. Unfortunately, when I found it, it was five minutes before closing so I had to leave empty-handed. mouth-watering thoughts of street tacos plagued me for months before I finally had the opportunity to try Bajo Sexto. In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have hyped the place up so much for myself. The pork in the carnitas street taco was completely unseasoned which was unfortunate but the chicken one had really good flavor and the chips and salsa were great. I’d definitely eat there again but I think if I’m looking for tacos in downtown Nashville I’d rather just go a couple blocks up the street to Bakersfield instead.

 

Pueblo Real

Pueblo Real, at least the location I went to, is one of those places that unless someone personally recommends it or it has really good yelp reviews you would probably never set foot in it. From the outside it looks like this tiny little hole-in-the-wall place located in one of the sketchier parts of town. Inside, however, the place is plenty clean and when I was there many of the booths were filled. Of the mid-range sit-down Mexican restaurants I’ve tried since being here, Pueblo Real is definitely my favorite. I had my usual first-visit order of a chicken enchilada and beef taco combo. The meat was well seasoned and the sauce on the enchilada was delicious. I haven’t had a chance to go back there yet—or tried their sister restaurant Tito’s—but I definitely plan to.

Oscars

Oscars Tacos has two locations near me: one bigger, newer-looking location that at least every time I’ve been there has been mostly empty and a smaller one that’s a lot farther out-of-the-way that is usually full of people. The farther one is significantly better than the bigger one, strange for a chain restaurant to be so different store-to-store but having eaten at the closer location twice I can say with absolute certainty that the longer drive and larger crowd is worth braving if you’re looking for quality tacos. Oscars Tacos is a fast-casual counter order restaurant that boasts “California-style” Mexican food. I haven’t had a chance to try any other counter order taco places other than Bajo Sexto in order to compare Oscars to other local options but on its own, Oscars is pretty good. I’ve had the carne asada and carnitas street tacos as well as the shredded beef crispy taco. I prefer the carne asada and beef tacos but the carnitas are good too. They’ve also got two different house-made hot sauces that go really well with the tacos. My biggest complaint is that they have Pepsi products—usually a deal-breaker in my book so it’s a good thing they’ve got fast, cheap, and tasty tacos.

Uncle Julio’s

Uncle Julios, on the fancier side of Mexican sit-down restaurants, was a birthday meal for my mom. The waitress told us that they were famous for their fajitas so rather than my usual enchilada/taco order I went with the “Carnitas Azteca” fajitas which were described as “savory braised pork with honey chipotle glaze, lima crema, and fresh cilantro.” While they weren’t necessarily the most Mexican tasting fajitas, they were fantastic. The combination of sweet and spicy is one of my favorite flavor combinations and these fajitas really delivered. Uncle Julio’s is also known for their chocolate piñata dessert, which we didn’t end up ordering but we did see it being served at several other tables. Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like: a hollow ball of chocolate filled with fresh fruit and homemade churro pieces hanging from a little metal stand like a bunch of bananas that you break open with what looked like a wooden rolling-pin. Probably the most fun looking dessert I’ve ever seen at a restaurant.

 

Bakersfield

In downtown Nashville, a few blocks up from Bajo Sexto, Bakersfield is a small taco place that looks more like a nice bar than a restaurant. They serve street-style tacos a la carte on a metal pan and stand like you’d see at a pizza place. Easily the best tacos I’ve had since coming to Nashville. I ordered the “pollo rojo”, “al pastor”, and “cochinta pibil” tacos all of which had great flavor and quality meat and left me genuinely disappointed when I had finished and realized there weren’t any left. Both of their salsa options—a mild green citrus-y one and a medium heat smoky red one were fantastic as well. I wish Bakersfield weren’t so far from where I live; I’ve been craving it since almost the minute I left, although I supposed it’s a good thing for my wallet and my self-control that they aren’t super close by.

 

Overall, I feel like my search for quality Mexican food in Nashville has been surprisingly successful and I can’t wait to taste what else Music City has to offer.