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October 13, 2010 / Leslie

Review: The Tower, The Zoo, And The Tortoise

The Tower, The Zoo, And The TortoiseThe Tower, The Zoo, And The Tortoise
by Julia Stuart

Genre: Fiction, Literature
Published: August 2010 by Doubleday
Rating: 5 of 5

Charming, quirky, whimsical, humorous, The Tower, The Zoo, And The Tortoise is all that and more. A delightful story with an eccentric cast of characters and a setting in The Tower of London, a real place brimming with actual history. Fortunately for the reader the author thought to include a “Cast of Characters” page for reference and a map of the Tower complex and buildings.

The story centers around Balthazar Jones, his wife Hebe and their 181 year old pet tortoise, Mrs. Cook. Balthazar is employed as a tower guard, a Beefeater, and the Beefeaters must live within the Tower complex. Hebe Jones misses her home with square walls and finds it difficult to decorate the round walls of the Tower. Hebe works at the London Underground’s Department of Lost Things where she and her co-worker try to return an assortment of strange items, along with the usual lost keys and bags, to their owners. Of course if there is a juicy book or diary that gets turned in they just might read it first!

We soon find out that Balthazar has been appointed overseer of the Tower’s new royal menagerie. All the animals that belonged to the Queen were being moved from the zoo into the Tower, and that is no easy job. Along the way the penguins go missing, the giraffes are stolen, the albatross is distraught because his mate remained with the zoo and someone wants to sabotage the new menagerie by leaving the gates open allowing them to escape.

For all of it’s humor and whimsy, there is a sad note that runs through the book. Balthazar and Hebe’s son, Milo, has recently died and it is putting a strain on their once perfect marriage. Balthazar could not talk about Milo’s death. Eventually Hebe Jones moves out leaving only a letter expressing her bitterness and despair. In between the lighthearted stories about the Tower’s history, the quirky character’s relationships, the strange items found on the Underground and the zoo animals, we learn the sad details. The second half of the book we learn how Balthazar and Hebe live apart and how they cope with it. At the same time the lonely albatross wanders and calls out at night, his heart broken, missing his mate, for albatrosses mate for life.

The author is British and the writing style is both whimsical and with a dry sense of humor. For example, the references to the “loathsome tourists” the Beefeaters have to put up with and the story of poor Mrs. Cook, the turtle, having her tail eaten off by a tower raven. I just loved it. I found it refreshing and funny even thought parts were sad.

The book is sprinkled with facts from the Tower’s rich history and are seamlessly woven into the story. The Tower has served as a prison, an armory, a treasury, a menagerie and the home of the Royal Mint. It is now a tourist attraction and more than two million people, I mean loathsome tourists, will visit this year.

My review got a little longer than I intended but there was a lot to say. I very much recommend this book as you can probably tell. It may take a few pages to get accustomed to the writing style but once you do the story flows along. I tried to think of another book I could compare it to but I really couldn’t; it’s very unique. In the style of humor I liken it a little bit to Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy.

And now for the good part. Doubleday is letting me give away two copies of this book to my readers. Instructions on how to enter the contest are here and the giveaway ends midnight 10/23.
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Source: Review Copy provided by the publisher.

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6 Comments

  1. Rebecca Rasmussen / Oct 13 2010 7:53 pm

    I’m so glad you posted this review. I have been dying to read this book and now I have no excuses. Thank you!

  2. Ash / Oct 13 2010 10:23 pm

    I’ve seen this book around and your review is absolutely fantastic! Sounds like a great book (and the cover is too cute).

  3. lucybirdbooks / Oct 16 2010 1:16 pm

    This is on my wishlist. Thanks for the great review.

    Visiting from the hop by the way

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