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Read this now: Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

I try not to judge books by their covers, but when Station Eleven caught my eye as I was having a browse for a new read I kind of knew it was for me. The bold title, the gorgeous artwork, the strategically placed peer review quote, I was sold. I'm a sucker for a post-apocalyptic tale as it is, but there was something about this that sucked me in. What was Station Eleven, and why was it so important?

The timeline of this novel stretches from the 'present day', as a pandemic outbreak of a deadly and uncontrollable flu virus brings about the collapse of life as we know it worldwide, to two decades after this point. Throughout we switch between the before, during and after through a set of characters that are connected through their encounters with a famous actor, who dies on stage during a performance of King Lear in the tale's opening scene, and a comic book written by his ex wife. The balance between past and present scenes is pretty 50-50 within Station Eleven and this helps to build the pace as well as fill in any blanks. I found it very hard to put the thing down. Everything comes full-circle in a way you probably won't be able to predict.

I appreciated the use of Shakespeare as a motif throughout the story on so many levels - after the collapse, a band of misfit survivors travel between remaining settlements performing Shakespeare for the communities. Little survived the collapse in the way of technology, culture as we knew it was gone for good, but good stories like those of the bard himself still resonate. The Travelling Symphony's trailer is painted with the words 'Survival is insufficient' (a Star Trek quote, would you believe), and this really struck a chord. We can always carry on in life, no matter what hits us, but as human beings our souls need more. Music, poetry, entertainment, love, purpose. It gives the Symphony members a reason to carry on other than merely surviving.

Something that really stuck out for me when reading this was Emily St John Mandel's deep understanding of the human condition. The way her characters react and interact with the events that unfold is so incredibly realistic, you'd be forgiven for thinking you were really there yourself. To write a global catastrophe that is so unprecedented but keep the reader focused on the individual protagonists immediate fate is a real achievement and part of what makes this such a haunting read. Every thought a character has, every action they take, is so considered, so laden with meaning and detail that there is no need to waste paragraphs describing the post-apocalyptic setting.

This is the best book I've read so far this year. It moved me, it surprised me, it made me think and most importantly it really, really entertained me.

What have you been reading lately?

The British 10k - fundraising update!

You might remember this post from a few months ago where I talked about having signed up to run the British 10k to raise money for Alzheimer's Society. Well, that was six weeks ago now and I thought I'd give a little update for you all on how much you've helped me raise. The target I pledged to raise for the charity was £250, but I was so blown away by the response from friends and family - the final figure now that everything's in is just shy of £600! I couldn't be more grateful and am so chuffed that everyone dug so deep for such a personal and important cause.

The race itself went a lot, lot better than I expected. I struggled with cramps towards the end of my training but on the day the adrenaline seemed to keep this at bay. I was a whole 14 minutes faster than I was projecting my time to be too having never attempted a full 10k with no pit-stops before. I got into a weirdly superhuman state of mind and seemed to be going faster and faster every time I checked my tracking app. I swear the buzz really is addictive, even if you don't enjoy actual running that much!

It was also a huge boost to see the Alzheimer's Society cheer gang waiting at the top of a hill about two thirds of the way round. Thank you guys for coming out to support us! The route itself is just amazing, starting this year by Green Park and ending just around the corner from Big Ben. I kept getting distracted by all the iconic landmarks like the screens at Piccadilly Circus and St Paul's Cathedral. The weather spared us too and a welcome drizzle began just after I crossed the finish line.

If you've ever thought about getting involved in a sporting event for charity I would highly recommend it. Whether you go it alone or get yourself a team together it's such an exciting thing to get involved in - I got so caught up in the mentality of it all. What's more is that there are so many events like the British 10k that allow you to choose and take part for whatever charity you choose. I saw such an array of charity running shirts and it was definitely a 'faith in humanity restored' kind of day.

If you'd like to donate to Alzheimer's Society then my Just Giving page will be up-and-running for a another month or so. You can sign yourself up for the 2016 British 10k event here. Visit the Alzheimer's Society website to find out about all the brilliant work they do.

My favourite jewellery

I'm not the kind of person who owns boxes and boxes of jewellery and accessories, but there are a few statement pieces I unfailingly turn to just to add a little something extra to an outfit, whether for work or a social outing. I thought I'd share some of my favourites with you all.

Rings - Generally speaking I don't wear a lot of rings. I struggle to find anything that fits my fingers properly as they puff up and shrink down on what seems like an hourly basis! My wreath ring from Pandora however fits me perfectly and is something I wear nearly every day. I think Pandora are amazing for rings as there's such a big range and they're great quality.

Bracelets - I've calmed down on the bracelet front in the last few years. I used to wear stacks of them and it was probably a tad OTT. These days I favour something a bit more minimal. Primark have a fab range of bracelets for every day wear (the gold one pictured is from a multipack), and I also picked up a few hamsa bracelets for myself and friends in the souks in Marrakech. One of my more 'fancier' favourites is a Links of London heart bracelet which was a present from my parents for graduating, but that mainly comes out for special occasions.

Earrings - I have slightly stretched ears (no regrets though, before anyone says anything!) and two holes per ear above these, so I have to be creative if I want to dress them up. You can get some really lovely plugs over on Etsy that look just like earrings - perfect for weddings, work or if you just feel like wearing them. I also tend to wear hoops or drop earrings in the second hole as there are some from my pre-stretch days I just can't part with.

Watches - I was never a watch wearer until I started full-time work after uni. Then I realised it's so much easier than rifling around in your bag for your phone just to check the time on the way to a meeting. I absolutely love Olivia Burton watches - the designs are so delicate and timeless.

Necklaces - Probably the piece I always neglect! I have a few simple necklaces, but usually only add them if my outfit is looking pretty plain. I love the trend at the moment for big stone pendants though so will probably end up collecting a few. The one pictured was only £1.50 in the Topshop sale.

What are your go-to jewellery pieces?

Wimpole Hall Estate

This post is long overdue and somehow doesn't quite fit in with the drizzle that's coming down outside my window, but a few weeks ago Mat and I headed up to Wimpole Hall Estate for a day out. We get two free family passes to National Trust sites a year with our Natwest Select bank account but had yet to use either, so a 31 degree sunny Saturday seemed the perfect opportunity. We packed up a picnic, slapped on a bit of sun tan lotion and were on our way. Living in Cambridge this place is a mere 15 minutes down the road in the direction of our hometown, Royston, and while I'd been here a few times as a kid it's been a very long time! 

There's so much to do at Wimpole. Outdoors, you can take a hike around the extensive open grounds, enjoy the beautifully kept gardens, or for a small extra fee take little ones onto the farm to see the animals. If you head over in less than perfect weather or out of season, the hall itself is open to visitors as a museum of sorts, plus there's a lovely cafe and some shops selling local wares to browse.

We spent the entire day plodding around, taking in the beauty of the place. There are even the ruins of a very old (I want to say Medieval but I risk being wrong) tower over past the lakes and on top of a hill, but we found the walk a bit tough for such a hot day!

If you live anywhere near Wimpole I'd highly recommend a visit!

To be read

Slowly but surely I'm getting back into a reading rhythm (by which I mean I'm trying to curb my Netflix addiction!), and there are a few books I've got lined up to help. 

Ken Follett, The Pillars of the Earth - As you can probably see by the ragged post-it note bookmark, I first picked this up just over a year ago. While I liked what I managed to read before Mat and I moved it's a very long book and I didn't have the time or energy to pick it up again after that! I only got about 80 pages in before so I'll be making a conscious effort to get it finished. The story is looking to be a good one even though it's not my usual genre of choice.

Emma Healey, Elizabeth is Missing - This has been on my radar since it graced every shortlist possible last year! Again this isn't my usual kind of novel, but something about the story appeals to me.

Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane - Is it wrong to pick up a book purely because of the title? I've heard so many good things about Gaiman's storytelling, not least thanks to the popularity of his comics and graphic novels, but this was the book that convinced me to try his stuff. From what I can see there's quite a darkness to Gaiman's stuff and I can't think of anything more up my street.

I'll be reporting back on these over the next month or two so stay tuned! What have you got lined up to read this summer?