The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise

The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise

by Julia Stuart

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Overview

Brimming with charm and whimsy, this national bestseller 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 SocietyThe 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307476913
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/23/2011
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 271,658
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Julia Stuart is an award-winning journalist and the author of The Pigeon Pie Mysery, The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise, and The Matchmaker of Périgord. She lives in London.

www.juliastuart.com

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.

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.)

Interviews

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.

Customer Reviews

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Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 142 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Julia Stuart has a witty, intelligent voice I loved the characters and their relationships with one another. Truly an amusing read.
tetonpilates More than 1 year ago
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.
TheChaoticBuffalo More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous 3 months ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I had read The Matchmaker of Perigord and enjoyed it so much I didn't hesitate to read this. I love Ms Stuarts sense of humor. While this book sure made the waterworks start it also had moments of whimsy, laugh out loud humor and some interesting history. Her characters are all in need or in search of love and I always enjoy a book that ends well. If I ever get to visit the tower of London I will not ask a beefeater where the lavatories are!! Her writing style is a little different but please don't give up. You won't be disappointed.
-Eva- on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book reminds me of a line from a movie: "Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion." It's a very sad tale of a couple's difficulty in overcoming the death of their only son. At the same time, it's a quirky, odd story about a strange menagerie of animals (and humans) that spend part of their life at the Tower of London. We'll encounter things like giraffes not gifted by the King of Sweden, a tortoise with a prosthetic tail, a lost-and-found with a whole Egyptology section, and a libidinous chef whose food even a glutton won't eat.Strangely, the mix of these seemingly completely disparate storylines works very well for me. I was expecting a dark comedy, but that's not what this is - rather, it's a melancholy tale interspersed with comedic moments. It's too bad in a way as I'm thinking some readers will fault it for what it isn't (due to marketing?) instead of seeing it for what it is: a really nice mix of the surreal/the real as well as the sad/the funny (Valerie Jennings, I'm talking to you!) that makes the book quite unique.There could have been another round of revisions done on the text since we end up with some information given several times, like the story of the white roses at the Bloody Tower and the fact that the Department of Lost Things' counter is the Victorian original, but these are tiny problems. In the end, you (or at least, I) have to like a book that contains a sentence like this: "Much of the night had been spent agonising over Ruby Dore's affection for the creature not worthy of a mention in the Bible, and lamenting his failure to seduce her with his mother's treacle cake."
suetu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Feel-good fiction at its heart-warming best!Look, I enjoy reading books that make me happy. As soon as I read that it was being marketed towards fans of Chocolat and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, I knew that this was a book for me. And this time I wasn¿t let down.The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise revolves around Balthazar and Hebe Jones. Because of his job as a Beefeater, the couple is required to live on-site at the Tower of London. It is there that they raised their son Milo, and it is there that they lost him. Now the grief-stricken parents are custodians only to Mrs. Cook, the world¿s oldest tortoise, who has been a fixture in Balthazar¿s family for generations. As you would expect, the loss of a child is a brutal hit to a marriage and to their lives. Balthazar is hanging onto his job by a thread when he learns that the Queen would like him to be in charge of a new menagerie at the Tower, made up of all the animals that have been gifted to her by heads of state. Adding wild animals to the fantastically quirky and charming Tower community creates all sorts of delightful complications.Meanwhile, we also learn of Hebe¿s idiosyncratic career in the London Underground Lost Property Office where we meet an equally quirky and charming cast of characters. You would NOT believe what people leave on the Tube. I¿d list a few examples, but the successively outlandish appearances are too much fun to spoil. Will Balthazar keep his job? Will their marriage survive? Will the various lovers in the book find happiness? These are the questions, and while clearly not everything in this book is happy, I think we all know from the cover art alone that the odds of happy endings are pretty darn good. Along the way there is heart-warming humor and plenty of chuckling out loud. This type of novel may be a bit twee for some, but you¿ll get no complaints from me. Well, one small complaint: there was some odd redundancy to the text that I¿m going to assume was a style choice I don¿t understand. But that¿s it.Julia Stuart, I want more. I¿m off to explore your debut novel, and I look forward with enthusiasm to see what gift you bring me next. Thanks so much for helping me find my smile!
mrs.starbucks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
*This is a review of the advance reader copy* Well, I'm not going to beat around the bush here. I LOVE this book. The plot is a little bizarre, but the strangeness of life lends itself well to moments of humor. More than once I laughed out loud at some outrageous, but inevitable occurrence. The book is written in charming and entertaining vignettes, moving from character to character in a world I've only seen as a tourist. It ends on the most satisfying note despite the various turmoils the characters undergo. Characters include a lonely albatross, a high-strung Etruscan shrew and escaped penguins; that's just an unbeatable combination. Those addicted to English historical fiction, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and The Art of Racing in the Rain alike will adore this book as much as I do. In my package, Doubleday publishers sent a little sketch of the Tower, and I really hope that sketch will appear in either the paperback or hardcover final version since I referred to it often and reminisced about my own trip to London. Even so, I found myself running to google about every 10 pages to look up more treats of Tower history. There are a few things that annoyed me however. Almost every chapter starts with the first and last name of a character. By chapter four, with unusual names like Balthazar, Hebe, and Septimus, I find that unnecessary and vaguely annoying. Some descriptions also appear multiple times. I don't like it when Laurell K. Hamilton does that, and I don't like it when Julia Stuart does it either, although I have the feeling this was done on purpose for some unfathomable reason. Other than that, I did really love it, and I think I'll be rereading it many times.
bbellthom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is quirky, sad, and funny and all this happens on every page throughout the book. The main story is about a Beefeater and his wife who have lost their son, they live in the Tower of London and his wife works in the London Underground¿s Lost Property Office. I particularly liked the stories relating to the lost items and how they reunited items with the rightful owners. On the funnier side you become familiar with the many inhabitants of the tower and their quirks, loves, and antics. I never knew that the Beefeaters actually live within the walls of the tower. At times I was confused with the authors direction but overall a very enjoyable book. In the end all turns out right and there is a little bit of poetic justice that you must read the book for I will not tell.
Carmenere on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The title of this novel could have been so much longer. Author, Julia Stuart, could have entitled it: The Tower, The Zoo, The Tortoise, The Beefeater, The Quirky, The Son, The Loved, The Lost, The Found, The Reverend, The Ravenmaster, The Hopeful and The Grieving. Yes, that title would have been way too long. So, I understand Ms. Stuart¿s shortened version. Rather than giving the reader all that information in the title she instead unfolds this material to the reader slowly and gently, using strategically placed reveals to open this beautiful story like a rose. Like the author, I will condense my review by not giving a synopsis of the plot but to suggest that this book is a collection of love stories, affairs of the heart. There are doors to unlock, passions to unleash and hearts to be joined and rejoined and hardships to be reconciled.Any person who is inclined to read this sort of novel will find Stuart¿s character¿s, whether human or otherwise, well drawn, quirky yet real, touching, sweet and occasionally even despicable. The settings are more than appropriate and the historical information she imparts is well timed, entertaining and relevant.
jcelrod on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved this charming and whimsical novel about the inhabitants (human and animal) of the Tower of London. The lighthearted nature of the story is tempered with the rawness of grief as Beefeater Balthazar Jones and his wife Hebe struggle to come to terms with the loss of their young son and the gaping hole it leaves in their marriage. Stuart manages to move the reader from amusement to the depths of despair and back again with skill and tells a story of love and life that includes a well-rounded supporting cast of characters. A very quick and delightful read - I thoroughly recommend it!
Tricoteuse on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is lovely. I've never read something that managed to be so absurdly funny (think runaway penguins) and heartbreakingly sad at the same time. I also really liked learning all the Tower history that's sprinkled throughout the book. The characters are all interestingly flawed, in a way that makes them engaging to read about, and makes it easy to care about their fates.
hairball on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I think this is supposed to be one of those charming and funny books--the publisher's note says it will be "impossible for you to read the first chapter without smiling"--but I found it rather depressing.The main characters, Balthazar and Hebe, are a couple whose relationship has been damaged by the loss of their young son. Balthazar specifically blames himself and the reader must endure this phrase repeatedly: "his terrible secret." Really, that turns me off a bit right there. The supporting characters are all very lonely in other ways.So here we have a book full of sad but quirky! interesting! people, in quirky! interesting! situations. You can throw a boatload of quirkiness at a situation, but that doesn't make it better, even if everyone has a happy ending, as of course they must.
tahoegirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A charming book with a likable and hilarious list of characters. Who knew there were so many secrets about the Tower of London (I didn't ever know the Beefeaters lived there!) and the Underground. At times the humor was a little too slapstick for my tastes, and the ending was a little two perfect. I really enjoyed the animals, particularly the bearded pig! Overall it was a fun and easy read.
Letter4No1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Tower, The Zoo and the Tortoise follows a slew of characters as they make their lives in and around the Tower of London. There is Balthazar Jones, a Beefeater with the worlds oldest tortoise, his wife Hebe, one of two employs of the Tube's lost properties department, The Tower bar maid who was born while the resident doctor played monopoly and The Tower Chaplin, who builds elaborate machines and writes erotic fiction in his spare time.Though I found the first few pages a bit slow, The Tower, The Zoo and the Tortoise was a really beautiful, and moving read. I thought that all of the characters, and believe me there are many, were well rounded and interesting. For the first time in a long time I thought that everyone in this ensemble acted like a real person, they thought like real people do and responded accordingly.The overall story was really original. Seeing the lives of modern Beefeaters was really interesting, as well as Hebe's job in lost properties. My only with this novel was how long it took to get information out. Things that are set up at the beginning of the novel take till the last pages to become completely understandable. This wouldn't a issue if it was a mystery novel, but as it's just straight up fiction and the information becomes more irritating and less interesting with the massive buildups than any moving moment.One of the best books I've read in months.Perfect for reading on a rainy day, on a long train ride or by the side of a pool.
erinclark on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this delightful and winsome story. I did find it a bit melancholy in the beginning - much sadness over the loss of a young son Milo to causes not explained until towards the end of the book, but also such witty humor that I knew I had to continue this reading journey along with all it's kooky yet lovable characters. Balthazar Jones the Beefeater who is much, much more than just a tour guide, his wife Hebe who reunites lost and strange items to their owners, The Inn/Bar Keeper Ruby and the Reverend Septimus Drew, are among the many quirky folks who live near or in the Tower of London which is now a great tourist attraction rather than the jail/prison/last step before the gallows/pyre/scaffold it used to be. The animals (the Queens collection) in the story were actually secondary to me in importance as I did love these silly folk so much. I highly recommend this book to all those who like a little history thrown in with their human drama with a large pinch of humor. For me this one is a keeper:)
grnpickle on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a fun, fun book. I loved the quirky characters and the little bit of history about the Tower itself. Julia Stuart does a great job making her characters interesting and eccentric. I laughed out loud in many parts. I recommend this book wholeheartedly.
stonelaura on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Pretty cute story of some quirky characters living and working in present day Tower of London. Filled (perhaps over-filled?) with quirky facts about the Tower and its unfortunate past residents. Pleasant, sweet book.
DonnerLibrary on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be very slow going at first. The long descriptive passages with no dialogue or even action seemed to violate the writer's rule of 'show don't tell.' The skipping around between past and present and between characters with no warning was often unsettling and disorienting. I would just find myself being pulled into the life of one character when I was suddenly thrust headlong into a different scene all together.Many of the characters in the book were intriguing with their various quirks and charms. However, I just couldn't understand how some of them fit into the main story. There seemed to be many little side-stories along the main one of Balthazar Jones and his wife, Hebe. I kept waiting for a stronger connection between them but in some cases those connections never appeared. Some of them simply felt unfinished at the end of the book. In fact, I was even wondering whether a main question was going to be answered as I was getting to the final few pages of the book. Luckily it was.Despite the difficulties that I had with this book, I did end up enjoying it. It certainly isn't one that I will read again and I definitely wouldn't recommend it to everyone.
dissed1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise, a novel by Julia Stuart, is a rare and wonderful treat. Juxtaposing offbeat humor with emotional poignancy, Stuart has created an imaginative tale with a life of its own. Colorful characters step off the page and work their endearing charm, evoking a subtle, but powerful message: Life is unpredictable, often disheartening, but always worth living.At the center of this magical world is Balthazar Jones, a Beefeater employed at the Tower of London, who collects different types of rain samples in his off-hours. Balthazar is the newly appointed head of the Queen¿s new menagerie of unique animals, gifted to her by various foreign diplomats. He and his wife, Hebe, live a solitary life in the Salt Tower, quietly avoiding each other. Neither wants to face the loss of their only son, and it¿s this chasm that finally tears their relationship apart. Also milling about is a hodgepodge of Tower and community residents, including the Queen¿s Equerry, Her Ravenmaster, a pregnant barmaid, a tattooed ticket inspector and an erotica-writing chaplain. Each is wholly consumed with the bits and bobs of their own secrets and concerns.At times chaotic or slapstick funny, at others melancholic and dreary, The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise succeeds with its compelling storyline and fragile, often eccentric characters. Each individual¿s thoughts and motives are keenly felt. Julia Stuart gives us a first-rate glimpse of life as a circus and a struggle, proving her point ingeniously. Readers will appreciate her wit and savoir faire. Don¿t miss this quiet stunner . . . . As British novels go, it quite takes the biscuit.
LynndaEll on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Reading "The Tower, The Zoo and The Tortoise" made me feel as if I'd fallen down Alice's rabbit hole. The novel is quirky, the characters eccentric, and the plot twists are kinky. If it's true that a person reads a book to take a trip with the author, then this is a spa vacation. The story progresses almost as slowly as the tortoise moves; nothing much seems to happen. The book was easy to lay aside - no page burner here. Yet, I also was easily drawn back to it - irresistably so. The eccentric characters were also very human. They experienced love, loss, and unexpected events and I wanted to know what happened to them. The ending is satisfying, though a bit unexpected.The only flaw in "The Tower, The Zoo and The Tortoise" was the way the characters sometimes seemed to step out of their role and hold up a sign that told a piece of historical trivia. About half the time, the trivia was worked into the story. Other times, the characters seemed to be telling each other things they already knew so that we would know it.In spite of this flaw, I recommend the book for those readers who do not demand action on every page. When you read it, watch especially for those brilliant gems of prose that are embedded in the story. You will view them with amazement, as if they were the Crown Jewels.I received an advanced reader copy for review.
BlackSheepDances on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"...for the rest of the evening the air in the Salt Tower was so fragile that they spoke to each other as if the place were filled with a million fluttering butterflies that neither dared to disturb.""Hebe Jones ran a hand along the bed sheet that had been a weding present all those years ago. But it failed to find her husband."You might recognize an older bearded gentleman dressed in a Victorian uniform of red tights, dark blue breeches, matching tunic, and the classic white ruffle around the neck, wearing a blue Tudor hat, as an English Beefeater (possibly from a bottle of gin). The official name of the guardians of the Tower of London is 'Yeoman Warder of Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, and Member of the Sovereign's Body Guard of the Yeoman Grand Extraordinary'. For purposes of common use (and possibly for business cards) they prefer the term Yeoman Warder. These Beefeaters were obligated to live in the dark and damp Tower of London-adorned with graffiti left from previous prisoners and occasionally visited by the ghost of Sir Walter Raleigh. The Tower today is a hugely popular tourist attraction.This is the engaging story of one such Beefeater: Yeoman Warder Balthazar Jones, his wife Hebe, and the son they lost tragically, Milo. The other denizens of the tower: a prize-winning priest who writes pornography under an alias, another Beefeater 'Ravenmaster' who is cheating on his wife, and 'Mrs. Cook', a one hundred and eighty-one year old tortoise. Other animals reside as well, and their presence gives the often dry Beefeaters occasional undignified challenges, such as when a special Etruscan shrew dies, and they decide to tell people it's hibernating, or when they term bird poo as "Parrot indiscretions".Jones is a complicated man, obsessed with weather and avidly collecting rain samples. An odd hobby, of course, but it's part of how he deals with his son's loss. It's unique details that make the characters of this story special. Julia Stewart has the ability to describe incidents in an unusual way; her prose delights. She also describes incidents in a decidedly English way which accounts for moments of humor that are a bit startling."Fury coursed through her veins at yet another night of disturbed sleep. Her usual revenge, performed each time her husband returned...was an anatomical master stroke. Once she heard the muddy breath of a man descended deep into his dreams, she would suddenly leap from the bed and make the short journey to the bathroom with the gait of a demented sentry. Once installed on the lavatory, she would proceed to empty her bladder with the door wide open. The clamour of the catastrophic downpour was such that her husband would immediately wake in terror, convinced that he was lying in a nest of snakes."Enjoying the read, there was some distraction from a few repetitions of certain phrases. The second phrase needed only a different word-order to smoothly convey the thought. This is fairly common, as authors inadvertently do this all the time, but it's enough of a distraction that it jostles the pace of the story. All in all, this is a fun read unlike any other I've read. Note that the cover art appears almost as if it's a children's book, but the story within, while tame, is not intended for children.
bpompon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! I¿ve always enjoyed books that incorporate a bit of history along the way and this book does exactly that. You get a little taste of the illustrious characters who¿ve had the misfortune to be guests of the Tower of London. Add to that, a very sweet, slightly wacky, and often time hilarious story about the Queen¿s menagerie of animals that have been gifted to her. You end up with a thoroughly entertaining book. It reminded me of The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett which I also loved.
sheriefx on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I had my doubts about this one at first because it is not a book I would normally choose to read. However, just a few pages in and I was already hooked. The book made me laugh and cry. It is quirky and fun. I loved the "sweet revenge" at the end. It is worth the read! The author did a wonderful job of weaving all the stories and characters together. The overall theme is love and finding happiness which came through beautifully. This was one of those books that when I finished it I felt like the story was over. It didn't leave me frustrated because the story line didn't end, which I liked. Overall a great read and definately recommended!
ijustgetbored on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I may be in a minority, but the quirkiness of The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise just didn't work for me.The story centers on Beefeater Balthazaar Jones, collector of rain and resident of the Tower of London, still in despair over the death of his son, Milo, some years previous. His wife, Hebe, works at the London Underground Lost Property Office, home to an eclectic assortment of objects, up to and including an Egpytology section. Neither of them can bring themselves to discuss their son's death with the other, and the issue hangs between them, unresolved, and haunts their increasingly static marriage. Other notable characters include Hebe's coworker Valerie Jennings, a woman of considerable size who keeps finding her way into costumes abandoned on the Underground, who is slowly forming a relationship with "tattooed ticked inspector" (one of my issues with the novel: the continued repetition of certain phrases) Arthur Catnip. Another notable is Rev. Septimus Drew, curate at the Tower and writer of steamy ficton, obsessed by catching rats and possessed of "extraordinarly long legs."The novel opens with a list of the cast of characters and a sentance describing each of them, and I felt like we never got much further into their characters than that brief introduction. With Balthazaar and Hebe, it's true, we do see more into their grief and ongoing pain, so there is character development there. With each character, in fact, we see a bit of the lonliness plaging them. But beyond seeing that the characters have quirky jobs, characteristics, and a tendancy to be lonely without a love interest, I didn't feel that there was much else there. Valerie can only get stuck in a costume before meeting with Catnip so many times before it stops being funny; Drew can only build so many devious rat-catching traps; the ghost of Sir Walter Raleigh can only make so many ill-timed appearances for comic relief before it begins to feel repetitive.In the line of repetition, we are introduced to facts about the Tower of London-- again and again. Beefeaters, we learn, provide tours of the Tower and are hence repositories of knowledge of trivia about the Tower. So that trivia comes up, over and over. The quirky fact is cute once, but telling the same joke over and over just doesn't hold up that well. Or at least it didn't for me. I felt that, if Stuart had wanted to play the angle of dishing out Tower gossip from over the years, she could have surely kept the reader stocked with a fresh supply of facts and information. She could have played the tour guide, so to speak. Instead, she played one of those tour cassettes, until it wore out.The novel ends rather neatly, happy endings all around. I suppose that's not a complaint; the novel isn't exactly billing itself as a tragedy. But things do wrap up awfully neatly, awfully quickly. Which leads me to the question of who I'd recommend this to: I'm not sure. Would I recommend it to fans of quirky, unusual reads? I'm not sure I would, because the theme of Milo's death and the persistent lonliness of the characters runs so heavily throughout the book. I'd be afraid that this would make the book to depressing, undercut the levity for people looking for a cheery little light read. On the other hand, I couldn't recommend it to people looking for a book about themes of estrangement because of the silliness factor, because they would feel that the forced quirkiness cheapens the themes of isolation. So I'm not sure who I'll loan this one to. In the end, I suspect it'll sit on my shelf. What can I say? This book and I just didn't hit it off.
Alliebadger on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A really good read. There were a few too many sad parts for my liking (Balthazar and Hebe Jones' son Milo died, and they have been unable to talk of it and have grown apart since then), but I'm more of a cheerful-book kind of person. It was really witty and well-written and I very much enjoyed. I definitely recommend it.