The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise

The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise

3.7 88
by Julia Stuart

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Brimming with charm and whimsy, this exquisite novel set in the Tower of London has the transportive qualities and delightful magic of the contemporary classics Chocolat and Amélie.

Balthazar Jones has lived in the Tower of London with his loving wife, Hebe, and his 120-year-old pet tortoise for the past eight years. That’s

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Brimming with charm and whimsy, this exquisite novel set in the Tower of London has the transportive qualities and delightful magic of the contemporary classics Chocolat and Amélie.

Balthazar Jones has lived in the Tower of London with his loving wife, Hebe, and his 120-year-old pet tortoise for the past eight years. That’s right, he is a Beefeater (they really do live there). It’s no easy job living and working in the tourist attraction in present-day London.

Among the eccentric characters who call the Tower’s maze of ancient buildings and spiral staircases home are the Tower’s Rack & Ruin barmaid, Ruby Dore, who just found out she’s pregnant; portly Valerie Jennings, who is falling for ticket inspector Arthur Catnip; the lifelong bachelor Reverend Septimus Drew, who secretly pens a series of principled erot­ica; and the philandering Ravenmaster, aiming to avenge the death of one of his insufferable ravens.

When Balthazar is tasked with setting up an elaborate menagerie within the Tower walls to house the many exotic animals gifted to the Queen, life at the Tower gets all the more interest­ing. Penguins escape, giraffes are stolen, and the Komodo dragon sends innocent people running for their lives. Balthazar is in charge and things are not exactly running smoothly. Then Hebe decides to leave him and his beloved tortoise “runs” away.

Filled with the humor and heart that calls to mind the delight­ful novels of Alexander McCall Smith, and the charm and beauty of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise is a magical, wholly origi­nal novel whose irresistible characters will stay with you long after you turn the stunning last page.

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Editorial Reviews

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.

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

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Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
8.80(w) x 11.04(h) x 1.17(d)

Read an Excerpt

Which The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise character are you? Answer the following questions and find out who!

1. You’re tasked with babysitting your neighbor’s new piglets for the weekend when one decides to flee your grasp and head for the hills. What do you do?
a) Call your best friend who works at the local “Lost and Found” and report a missing mammal.
b) Sit idle. Pigs, regardless of size are too fast to catch.
c) Grab a handful of fruits and veggies from the fridge and head out to lure the piglet back to safety.
d) Grimace and wring your hands as you realize that this animal on the loose has not only delayed your finishing your latest bodice-buster, but also caused you to burn the treacle cake that was baking in the oven.

2. You’re invited to visit friends in New York City and have some spare time before you’re due to meet them. What do you do while you wait?
a) Stop at Alice’s Tea Cup for tea and a scone and then ride the subway through the boroughs looking for items riders have left behind. New Yorkers must have some interesting things to lose, right?
b) Enjoy some shade in Central Park. No need to exhaust yourself in the concrete jungle just yet.
c) Take a leisurely stroll through Central Park Zoo. You’ve heard there are new chinstrap penguins in the Penguin House!
d) Head to the MTA office to complain about the rat infestation in the subway system.

3. Your boss just gave you the day off of work. How will you spend these precious hours of freedom?
a) Catching up on the latest town gossip with your best friend.
b) Work? I’ve been retired…for a very long time. Every day is a day off!
c) At the local pub. Every vacation day deserves its own toast!
d) Speed dating. There have to be some eligible singles out there with a comparable penchant for storytelling.

4. You’re just headed out of the grocery store when it starts pouring rain…and you don’t have an umbrella. How do you react?
a) There’s no sense in getting upset over a shower. You’ll dry off and warm up with some tea when you make it home.
b) Piece of cake. My outerwear is always durable…and I could use a good rinse.
c) Rain fascinates you. You don’t care if all of your groceries get soggy; you’re going to soak up this rain for as long as you can.
d) You pull your coat up over your head and hurry home to make sure the rain isn’t driving the field mice indoors.

5. You just won a contest through your local radio station. You’ve won an all expense paid trip to any city/country of your choice. Where will you go?
a) Santorini, Greece: You love the history and heritage, not to mention the views!
b) The town next door has always intrigued you. You can only carry what’s on your back, so the proximity helps you cut down on packing.
c) South Africa: You’ll finally be able to see wild animals in their natural habitat.
d) Rome, Italy: You’ve always wanted to visit the Coliseum and hear stories about its classic battles and gladiator contests.

If you answered mostly…
A: You are Hebe Jones! Loyal friend and dedicated employee with an affinity for problem solving.
B: You are Mrs. Cook! The Jones’ 181-year-old tortoise. The oldest tortoise in the world. Congratulations; you’ve earned the right to be lazy.
C: You are Balthazar Jones! Animal lover and collector of rain.
D: You are Reverend Septimus Drew! The Tower’s lovelorn chaplain who despises mice and has a secret passion for writing…well, you know.

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