The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise

( 88 )

Overview

Set in the popular tourist attraction in present-day London, The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise is an exquisite story of love, loss, and a one-hundred-eighty-one-year-old pet.
 
Balthazar Jones has lived and worked in the Tower of London for the past eight years. Being a Beefeater is no easy job, and when Balthazar is tasked with setting up an elaborate menagerie of the many exotic animals gifted to the Queen, life at the Tower gets all ...
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The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise

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Overview

Set in the popular tourist attraction in present-day London, The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise is an exquisite story of love, loss, and a one-hundred-eighty-one-year-old pet.
 
Balthazar Jones has lived and worked in the Tower of London for the past eight years. Being a Beefeater is no easy job, and when Balthazar is tasked with setting up an elaborate menagerie of the many exotic animals gifted to the Queen, life at the Tower gets all the more interesting. Penguins escape, giraffes go missing, and the Komodo dragon sends innocent tourists running for their lives. Still, that chaos is nothing compared to what happens when his wife, Hebe, makes a surprise announcement. What’s a Beefeater to do?
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“[A] hilarious love story. . . . This book will steal your heart.” —People 
 
“History buffs, animal lovers, and simply the tenderhearted will swoon over this captivating story. . . . Sweet and enchanting.” —Entertainment Weekly, Grade A
 
“Feather-light without being feather-brained. Julia Stuart has penned a work that is original and every-page amusing.” —The Denver Post
 
“A marvelous confection of a book.” —The Washington Times
 
“Delightfully zany and touching. . . . With her deft and charming style, Stuart brings this comic story to a satisfying and heartwarming end.” —The Washington Post

“Julia Stuart’s sweet The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise is a blessing, undisguised and undeniable, and apparent from the first sentence. . . . [A] tale at once contemporary and timeless. . . . The Tower, of course, is known as the home of the Crown Jewels, and Stuart’s many-faceted little gem adds to its glitter.” —Richmond Times-Dispatch
 
“This is fine writing. . . . For [those] who could use a little whimsy and a rousing good yarn, turtle soup is on.” —The Plain Dealer
 
“Imagine a funny, poignant book, full of delightful and wacky characters, then add a bit of English history, and you’ve got The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise. . . . This is Carl Hiaasen for the Tower of London.” —NPR, “Best Books of 2010”
 
The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise unfolds with an airy whimsy. . . . Great fun. . . . For all that [Stuart’s] setups are ingenious, she never loses sight of the humanity of her characters. . . . Both original and memorably enjoyable.” —The Denver Post
 
“Stuart’s tale is a comedy of realms—her Tower, her England—where people and things are out of place. . . . Sometimes it takes an escaped Komodo dragon for people to begin sorting out their lives.” —BookPage
 
“A charming spoof.” —The Washington Times
 
“Enjoyable and humorous. . . . Has a human genuineness to it that is touching and, at times, heartbreaking.” —The Gainesville Times
 
“[A] treat for Anglophiles.” —Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
 
“It’s the delicate balance of odd and normal that makes Stuart’s book irresistible.” —Sacramento Book Review
 
“Stuart’s attempt to combine current reality with the ghostly past is a brilliant premise. . . . Remarkably funny. . . . Stuart is obviously fascinated by the multiple histories that inhabit the tower, and her research flavours the novel well.” —The Globe and Mail (Toronto)
 
“An absolute delight.” —IndieLondon
Kirkus Reviews

A sensitive Beefeater, his wife and assorted other eccentrics cope with modern life in the infamous Tower of London.

Considering he spends much of his day telling tourists where the lavatories are, Balthazar Jones takes pride in his coveted role as Yeoman Warder (aka Beefeater) for one on England's top destinations. The former officer in Her Majesty's Forces shares his centuries-old, on-site lodgings with his wife Hebe, a no-nonsense woman of Greek descent who works in the lost-and-found office for the London subway service. Once very much in love, Balthazar and Hebe have grown apart since the death of their 11-year-old son Milo three years ago. Balthazar's life takes an unexpected turn when he is put in charge of the Tower's new menagerie. Consisting of animals gifted to the Queen by various nations, the new arrivals include a Komodo dragon, giraffes erroneously credited to the country of Sweden, as well as some naughty marmosets. The non-zoo Tower residences include the unlucky-in-love Rev. Septimus Drew, who writes erotica under a pseudonym while yearning for Ruby Dore, the proprietress at the Tower's only pub. Oblivious to the reverend's adoration, Ruby finds herself in the delicate situation of being pregnant and unwed. Then there is the mustachioed Ravenmaster, who, when he's not looking after his ill-natured flock, manages to carry on a dalliance with the pneumatic cook, Ambrosine Clarke. The zoo proves popular with visitors, and Balthazar finds himself bonding with creatures great and small. But his enthusiasm for the zoo doesn't help his damaged marriage, as Hebe makes a fateful decision that impacts them both. Our hero is left trying to win back his wife's heart while juggling multiple potential catastrophes.

Stuart's second novel (The Matchmaker of Périgord, 2008) employs a whimsical over-the-top style that occasionally draws attention to itself, but the tale is grounded by the moving central love story. This sweet romp will appeal to history buffs.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307476913
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/23/2011
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 363,237
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Julia Stuart is an award-winning journalist and the author of one previous novel, The Matchmaker of Périgord. She lives in London.
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Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

Standing on the battlements in his pajamas, Balthazar Jones looked out across the Thames where Henry III’s polar bear had once fished for salmon while tied to a rope. The Beefeater failed to notice the cold that pierced his dressing gown with deadly precision, or the wretched damp that crept round his ankles. Placing his frozen hands on the ancient parapet, he tilted back his head and inhaled the night. There it was again.

The undeniable aroma had fluttered past his capacious nostrils several hours earlier as he lay sleeping in the Tower of London, his home for the last eight years. Assuming such wonderment was an oasis in his usual gruesome dreams, he scratched at the hairs that covered his chest like freshly fallen ash and descended back into ragged slumber. It wasn’t until he rolled onto his side, away from his wife and her souk of competing odours, that he smelt it again. Recognising instantly the exquisite scent of the world’s rarest rainfall, the Beefeater sat bolt upright in the darkness, his eyes open wide like those of a baby bird.

The sudden movement of the mattress caused his wife to undulate for several seconds like a body drifting at sea, and she muttered something incomprehensible. As she turned away from the disturbance, her pillow fell into the gap between the head of the bed and the wall, one of the many irritations of living within circular walls. Balthazar Jones reached down into the dusty no-man’s-land and groped around. After carefully retrieving the pillow, he placed it gently next to his wife so as not to disturb her. As he did so, he wondered, as he often had throughout their marriage, how a woman of such beauty, the embers of which still glowed fiercely in her fifty-fifth year, could look just like her father as she slept. For once, he didn’t feel the urge to poke her awake in order to rid himself of the harrowing illusion of sharing his bed with his Greek father- in-law, a man whose ferocious looks had led his relatives to refer to him as a good cheese in a dog’s skin. Instead, he quickly got out of bed, his heart tight with anticipation. Forgetting his usual gazelle’s step at such times, he crossed the room, his bare heels thudding on the emaciated carpet. He peered out, nose and white beard against the pane, which bore the smudges of numerous previous occasions. The ground was still dry. With mounting desperation, he scanned the night sky for the approaching rain clouds responsible for the undeniable aroma. In his panic not to miss the moment for which he had been waiting for more than two years, he hurried past the vast stone fireplace to the other side of the bedroom. His stomach, still bilious from the previous evening’s hogget, arrived first.

Grabbing his dressing gown, its pockets bearing the guilty crumbs of clandestine biscuits, the Beefeater pulled it across his pajamas and, forgetting his tartan slippers, opened the bedroom door. He failed to notice the noise the latch made and the subsequent incomprehensible babble it produced from his wife, a slither of hair skimming her cheek. Fingers sliding down the filthy rope handrail, he descended the corpse- cold spiral stairs clutching in his free hand an Egyptian perfume bottle in which he hoped to capture some of the downfall. Once at the bottom of the steps, he passed his son’s bedroom, which he had never brought himself to enter since that terrible, terrible day. Slowly, he shut behind him the door of the Salt Tower, the couple’s quarters within the fortress, and congratulated himself on a successful exit. It was at that precise moment that his wife woke up. Hebe Jones ran a hand along the bed sheet that had been a wedding present all those years ago. But it failed to find her husband.

s balthazar jones had been collecting rain for almost three years, a compulsion that had started shortly after the death of his only child. At first he thought that rain was simply an infuriating part of the job, which, along with the damp from their abominable lodgings, produced in all the Beefeaters a ruthless specimen of fungus that flourished on the backs of their knees. But as the months grated by following the tragedy, he found himself staring at the clouds, frozen in a state of insurmountable grief when he should have been on the lookout for professional pickpockets. As he looked up at the sky, barely able to breathe for the weight of guilt that pressed against his chest, he started to notice a variety in the showers that would invariably soak him during the day. Before long he had identified sixty-four types of rain, all of which he jotted down in a Moleskine notebook he bought specially for the purpose. It wasn’t long before he purchased a bulk order of coloured Egyptian perfume bottles, chosen not so much for their beauty but for their ability to conserve their contents. In them he started to collect samples, recording the time, date, and precise variety of rain that had fallen. Much to the annoyance of his wife, he had a cabinet made for them, which he mounted with considerable difficulty on the living room’s curved wall. Before long it was full and he ordered two more, which she made him put in the room at the top of the Salt Tower, which she never entered because the chalk graffiti left on the walls by the German U-boat men imprisoned during the Second World War gave her the creeps.

When his collection had swollen to the satisfying figure of one hundred, the Beefeater promised his wife, who now detested wet weather even more than was natural for a Greek who couldn’t swim, he would stop. And for a while it seemed that Balthazar Jones was cured of his habit. But the truth was that England was going through an extraordinary dry patch, and as soon as the rain started to fall again, the Beefeater, who had already been reprimanded by the Chief Yeoman Warder for gazing up at the sky while he should have been answering the tourists’ tiresome questions, returned to his compulsion.

Hebe Jones satisfied herself with the thought that eventually her husband would complete his collection and be done with it. But her hopes evaporated when he was sitting on the edge of the bed one night and, after pulling off his damp left sock, revealed with the demented conviction of a man about to prove the existence of dragons that he had only touched the tip of the iceberg. It was then that he had some official writing paper printed with matching envelopes, and set up the St. Heribert of Cologne Club, named after the patron saint of rain, hoping to compare notes with fellow wet weather enthusiasts. He placed adverts in various newspapers around the world, but the only correspondence he ever received was a heavily watermarked letter from an anonymous resident of Mawsynram, in northeastern India, which suffered from one of the world’s heaviest rainfalls. “Mr Balthazar, You must desist from this utter madness at the most soonest. The only thing worse than a lunatic is a wet one” was all that it said.

But the lack of interest only fuelled his obsession. The Beefeater spent all his spare time writing to meteorologists around the world about his discoveries. He received replies from them all, his fingers, as lithe as a watchmaker’s, quiver- ing as he opened them. However, the experts’ politeness was matched by their disinterest. He changed tack and buried himself in dusty parchments and books at the British Library that were as fragile as his sanity. And with eyes magnified by the strength of his reading glasses, he scoured everything ever written about rain.

Eventually, Balthazar Jones discovered a variant that, from what he could make out, hadn’t fallen since 1892 in Colombo, making it the world’s rarest. He read and reread the descriptions of the sudden shower, which, through a catalogue of misfortunes, had resulted in the untimely death of a cow. He became adamant that he would recognise it from its scent even before seeing it. Every day he waited, hoping for it to fall. Obsession eventually loosened his tongue, and one afternoon he heard himself telling his wife of his desperate desire to include it in his collection. With a mixture of incredulity and pity, she gazed up at the man who had never shed a tear over the death of their son, Milo. And when she looked back down at the daffodil bulbs she was planting in a tub on the Salt Tower roof, she wondered yet again what had happened to her husband.

s standing with his back against the Salt Tower’s oak door, the Beefeater glanced around in the darkness to make sure that he wouldn’t be spotted by any of the other inhabitants of the fortress. The only movement came from a pair of flesh-coloured tights swinging on a washing line strung up on the roof of the Casemates. These ancient terraced cottages built against the fortress walls housed many of the thirty-five Beefeaters who lived with their families at the Tower. The rest, like Balthazar Jones, had had the misfortune of being allocated one of the monument’s twenty-one towers as their home or, worse still, a house on Tower Green, the site of seven beheadings, five of them women.

Balthazar Jones listened carefully. The only sound emerging through the darkness was a sentry marking his territory, his footfall as precise as a Swiss clock. He sniffed the night again and for a moment he doubted himself. He hesitated, cursing himself for being so foolish as to believe that the moment had finally come. He imagined his wife emitting an aviary of sounds as she dreamt, and decided to return to the warm familiarity of the bed. But just as he was about to retrace his steps, he smelt it again.

Heading for the battlements, he noticed to his relief that the lights were off at the Rack & Ruin, the Tower’s tavern that had been serving the tiny community for two hundred and twenty-seven uninterrupted years, despite a direct hit during the Second World War. He did well to check, for there were occasions when the more vociferous arguments between the Beefeaters took until the early hours to be buried. Not, of course, that they remained that way. For they would often be gleefully dug up again in front of the warring parties by those seeking further entertainment.

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Interviews & Essays

It was the image of Henry III's polar bear fishing for salmon next to the Tower of London that made me want to write The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise. The thought of the creature sitting on the bank of the Thames during the thirteenth century pawing the water or swimming in it was irresistible, to say nothing of the river once being clean enough to stock his supper.

I found this delightful piece of historical trivia while searching for a plot for my second novel. I already knew that I wanted to set it in the Tower of London, having read an article about the beefeaters and their families living there, along with a chaplain and doctor. I paid several visits, and read numerous guidebooks, and discovered that it once housed a menagerie that spanned 600 years, eventually closing in the 1830s. Many of the animals had been gifts from heads of state. The white bear, as records refer to our hungry friend (there's every hope that he was a polar bear), was a gift from Norway. Further research revealed that the Queen was still being sent gifts of live animals in the 1970s, many of which were kept at London Zoo.

It was then that I came up with the plot for a modern-day Tower menagerie. I would take a fictional collection of badly behaved royal beasts from London Zoo and bring them back to the famous fortress. In charge of it would be Balthazar Jones, a beefeater who owns Mrs Cook, the oldest tortoise in the world. But more than anything I wanted to write a novel in which I could put Henry's exotic white bear in the very first sentence. And now I can think of him with his tummy full, basking in the spotlight.

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Reading Group Guide

In the tradition of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Chocolat, Julia Stuart’s exquisite new novel is brimming with charm, whimsy, and wonder. The following questions are intended to enhance your reading experience and to generate lively discussion among the members of your book group.

1. While filled with humour, The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise has an undercurrent of heartache. Why do you think the author included the tragic element—could the story have survived without it?

2. The novel is strewn with historical anecdotes. Which do you think are true, and which do you think the author made up, if any?

3. Much is made of British humour. Do you think that there is any difference between British and American humour? If so, how is it demonstrated in the book?

4. Explain the correlation between Balthazar’s inability to cry about Milo’s death and his obsession with collecting rain drops.

5. Hebe Jones sarcastically states that “It’s every woman’s dream to live in a castle.” (p. 22) How is this statement not true for Hebe. What do you think is Hebe’s dream?

6. What is the main attraction between Arthur Catnip and Valerie Jennings? How are they a well-suited match?

7. How is the lost safe significant to Hebe and Valerie?  Is their any significance to the timing of when the lock is opened?

8. Reverend Septimus Drew seems to be a walking contradiction. Outside of his hidden hobby, what else is surprising/contradictory about his character?

9. All of the characters seem to be in search of something—whether lost love, items, loved ones, or animals. Who do you think is the most fulfilled character in the book, if there is any? Why?

10. Sir Walter Raleigh and many other spirits claim to haunt the Tower. What element do these ghosts add to the book? Is it more spiritual or superstitious? 

11. What is the significance of the urn that Hebe finds in London Underground’s Lost Property Office? Why is she so resolved to find its owner?

12. Explain how infidelity affects various characters in the book.

13. How does working in the menagerie make Balthazar feel closer to Milo?

14. What role does Mrs. Cook play in the novel? She is in part responsible for Balthazar’s job at the menagerie—how else has she played an integral role in Hebe and Balthazar’s lives?

15. What role does storytelling and letter writing play in the book? Balthazar won both Hebe and Milo’s hearts with his grand storytelling. Who else from the Tower is a raconteur?

(For a complete list of a available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit www.readinggroupcenter.com.)

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 88 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(25)

4 Star

(32)

3 Star

(20)

2 Star

(6)

1 Star

(5)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 88 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 29, 2011

    Loved this book!

    Julia Stuart has a witty, intelligent voice I loved the characters and their relationships with one another. Truly an amusing read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 23, 2010

    A bit ploddy

    I looked forward to reading this novel in advance of a trip to London, to learn something of the Tower and its inhabitants. Sweet characters, but the pace is glacial and the story doesn't pull together quite as well as I'd hoped. Read it if, unlike me, you don't have a stack of unread books in the library.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 27, 2010

    VERY disappointed

    When I saw this book while looking for some new "reads" this caught my eye and I was so excited I almost ran out to the store to get it. I am glad I didn't make a special trip and wish I had not bought this book. I am not one to give up on books, but I got halfway through it and just couldn't do it anymore! It was awful. Nothing of what I expected.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 22, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Ever wonder what it's like to live and work at the Tower of London?

    This novel is about the people who live and work at the Tower of London. Their lives change when the queen decides to move the animals, that have been given to her as gifts, from the London Zoo to the Tower to help attract more tourists. Beefeater Balthazar Jones is put in charge of the menagerie. His marriage is on the rocks because of the sudden death of his young son. His wife, Hebe, works in the Department of Lost Things where people leave the most amazing things; a horse costume, a magician's cabinet, an Egyptian sarcophagus.

    Balthazar works through his loss by becoming obsessed with rain water and then taking care of the animals; whereas Hebe devotes herself to her job. It is appropriate that Hebe works at a lost and found as the theme of this novel is loneliness and longing. The things people leave on the Tube are both hilarious and sad and the ladies go out of their way to find the owners. Like the lost objects, all of the characters have lost someone or are looking for someone. The story is full of both humor and pathos.

    This was a quick read. I enjoyed the quirky characters, the funny discriptions of the animals and their behavior and the historical anecdotes that are interspersed throughout the novel.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 21, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Slow and Steady Wins

    I received this book through the First Reads giveaway program on Goodreads.

    As a Beefeater, Balthazar Jones and his wife, Hebe, live in the Salt Tower at the Tower of London with Mrs. Cook, their hundred-and-eighty-one-year-old tortoise. Their marriage has been reduced to a shell of it's former passion in the few years since the sudden death of their young son, Milo. Balthazar's life is thrown into further turmoil when he is appointed to re-establish and maintain a menagerie of animals given to the Queen. When Hebe leaves him, his despondency reaches an all-time low. The Tower is also populated by an eccentric group of individuals, each of whom has his or her own secrets and life-issues to deal with but each of whom is impacted in some way by the arrival at the Tower of the new menagerie.

    Stuart has created a fascinating Tower of London guidebook within a beautifully written story. Her recounting of the tales and legends of the Tower alone would be enough reason to read this book, but she's also provided a glimpse into the lives of a unique community that will have you laughing out loud one minute and shedding tears the next. There are enough subplots running through the book that you begin to wonder if some will be left hanging, but they're all tied up neatly and completely by the time Mrs. Cook makes her final, triumphant appearance. Ultimately, this is a book about love; parental, marital, illicit - love wished for and love spurned. We learn from this eclectic cast of characters that love found, love lost, and love rekindled are too important to leave to chance. They desire the full attention of our hearts and minds and are worth nothing less.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2015

    Original and engaging!

    I thoroughly enjoyed this original, quirky, engaging and heartfelt book. I loved it! I indeed plan to read other books by Julia Stuart.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 11, 2013

    Satisfyingly Predictable.

    The story was very interesting with lots of depth to the characters. There were lots of twists throughout, but the ending left it as you had predicted, or hoped, it would.

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  • Posted July 23, 2013

    I enjoyed the book. After reading some of the less stellar revie

    I enjoyed the book. After reading some of the less stellar reviews, I can see that some other readers did not appreciate the style or the humor that Stuart uses, but I thought it was entertaining. The glimpses of the life that residents of the Tower lead are truly interesting. Having been one of those tourists, I had to laugh at some of the questions Stuart's Tower visitors pose and the behaviors she attributes to them! I am sure the residents face many of those situations. The story has a serious underlying theme that I thought kept it grounded. I have become a Julia Stuart fan and look forward to reading her other books. I think she offers a fresh style and an opportunity to smile. 

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2013

    what a delightful book. A bit slow at the beginning, but stick w

    what a delightful book. A bit slow at the beginning, but stick with it. entertaining.funny,clever. 

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  • Posted August 15, 2012

    Interesting to a point.

    It was a bit irritating when the author kept repeatedly using all the characters first and last names throughout the book. Not quite sure the point in this story, either. If there is nothing else to read, then try it.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 11, 2012

    Interesting Reading

    This was not a book I would have bought on my own but read it due to a book club commitment. I thought the book was rather sad and it did keep my interest but it would not be one I, personally, would recommend to a friend.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 8, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Posted May 31, 2011

    Sweet, eccentric and poignant

    Set in the present day at the Tower of London, this book is about loss and the effect it has on the hearts, minds and lives of those it touches. Balthazar Jones, one of the iconic Beefeaters, has suffered the unexpected death of his 11 year old son. His grief drives a wedge between him and his beloved wife, who also has to deal with that horrific loss. She works at the Lost and Found department for the London Underground, trying to re-unite people with their possessions which had one way or another been lost on the Tube. Most of the other characters have to deal with various of their own, ranging from of dreams to love to that of a tail. The central event is the re-establishment of the Royal Menagerie at the Tower, with Balthazar reluctantly installed as Keeper. Here again, there are losses, from the mysterious disappearance of the penguins to the mourning of the wandering albatross who had been separated from his mate. The book is a poignant exploration of grief and redemption. The pace is slow and deliberate, the characters quirky, the humor light and clean. I found it to be sweet and lovely; I was loathe to see it end.

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  • Posted February 25, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Fast-paced as a Tortoise Crawl Fast-paced as a Tortoise Crawl Fast-paced as a Tortoise Crawl

    I picked up THE TOWER, THE ZOO, AND THE TORTOISE because of all the praise it had received from critics and reviewers. While cute, the story is as entertaining and fast-paced as watching two English women discussing the weather in London whilst sipping tea.

    The story involves a Beefeater (a ceremonial guardian/tour guide of the Tower of London; hence THE TOWER in the book's title) who lost a young son and, since then, he and his wife have been growing apart. They also have a pet turtle named Mrs. Cook that's been in the family for years (THE TORTOISE in the book's title). The Beefeater is then asked to be in charge of a new zoo they want to put together that would encompass all of the gifts of exotic and non-exotic animals given to the Queen of England from countries around the world (THE ZOO).

    Filled with interesting facts about Beefeaters, the Tower of London, and life in London, the novel seemed to be lacking in actual substance. While I don't require a lot of action or fast-paced stories, I do like books that I read to be interesting enough that I want to continue turning the page. THE TOWER, THE ZOO, AND THE TORTOISE did not do this for me and I can't help but wonder if critics gave it a high rating and exuberant praise only to make themselves feel culturally relevant and somewhat literary.

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  • Posted November 13, 2010

    Quirky, original, funny!

    This book immediately strikes you as goofy...then it hooks you with its quirky humor. It is an easy, enjoyable read.

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  • Posted October 21, 2010

    To say the characters in this book are eccentric is putting it mildly!

    The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise (couldn't it have been given a better title?!) opens with Balthazar Jones, a guard in the Tower of London, and his wife Hebe. They have suffered a tragedy and no longer get any pleasure out of living in the Tower with its gruesome history and quirky daily life. Then Balthazar is ordered to resurrect the Tower's zoo and everything changes. The story is packed with side plots including a priest who moonlights as a racy author, a pregnant barmaid, and the gossipy goings on in the local underground lost and found office.

    To say the characters in this book are eccentric is putting it mildly! Not a single person here is remotely normal, so if you are looking for a realistic portrayal of life in the Tower this is not the book for you. However, all of those strange and messed up characters do make for some good entertainment if you can just suspend belief for awhile and allow yourself to enter their weird and wonderful world. I especially loved the world of Hebe's work in the lost and found office. The stories of found items, how they arrived there and how the rightful owners were located did make me laugh. I did find the book to be a little too over-the-top for my taste, but enjoyed it nonetheless.

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  • Posted September 29, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A fun exploration of the world inside the Tower of London

    Good story, vibrant characters, quick read, a fresh setting . . . what's not to love? I found myself digging through my snapshots of my visit to the Tower of London to see where the warder's apartments were and refresh my memories of the world of which I had only the most superficial glimpses. Loved it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 20, 2010

    This book is an excellent book!

    Very clever, wonderful characters. Loved it! Looking forward to the next book by Julia Stuart...

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  • Posted September 17, 2010

    Really wierd

    I was totally disappointed with the book. Kept reading to find out what happened to Milo. Just not my kind of book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 2, 2010

    Charming!

    This is a sweet, charming and funny look at the fictional life of a Beefeater and his neighbors living in the Tower of London. It's jammed packed with fun facts about the Tower and the lives those who live there. (I've never been there but now I really want to go!) It's a heartwarming story and an easy read. Any one interested in English History will find this book a lot of fun. I look forward to reading more books by Juilia Stuart.

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