Summary and book reviews of The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart

The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise

A Novel

By Julia Stuart

The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Hardcover: Aug 2010,
    320 pages.
    Paperback: Aug 2011,
    320 pages.

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About this Book

Book Summary

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.

Published in the UK in August 2010 as Balthazar Jones and the Tower of London Zoo.

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 ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Discussion Guide & Quiz

Discussion 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 humor, 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 ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

22 out of 27 BookBrowse readers rated The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise 4 or 5 stars. Most of them agree that:

The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise is an absolute delight! Every one of Stuart's characters is endearing, brought to life with humorous quirks, and a sense of quiet tenderness that warms the heart in even the rainiest of times. This book is a good pick for animal lovers, English history buffs or anyone who has ever known "the silent ecstasy of wearing new socks." (Elena S)   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

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Media Reviews
Kirkus Reviews

Stuart's second novel 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.

Publishers Weekly

Though the cuteness sometimes comes across a little thick, the love story is adorable.

Library Journal

Charming, witty, and heartfelt, Stuart's second novel is even more delightful that her debut, The Matchmaker of Perigord. A perfect suggestion for fans of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society; highly recommended.

Entertainment Weekly

History buffs, animal lovers, and simply the tenderhearted will swoon over this captivating story.

The Denver Post

The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise is the perfect summer confection — feather-light without being feather-brained. Julia Stuart has penned a work that is original and every-page amusing, and she's peopled it with characters that move into your heart.

The Washington Post

[The] delightfully zany and touching novel, The Tower, The Zoo, and the Tortoise, by British writer Julia Stuart, has jumped the queue to take readers on a fictional romp through the Tower’s realm…With her deft and charming style, Stuart brings this comic story to a satisfying and heartwarming end.

Reader Reviews
rebecca g

fun, fun, fun!
This was the most fun reading a book that I have had in awhile. Delightful, quirky characters and silly animals...I loved them all. I laughed and giggled through the whole thing

Louise Jolly

What A Hoot!!
The engrossing story of a Beefeater, otherwise known as Yeoman Warder Balthazar Jones. He lives in the Tower of London with his wife, Hebe, but they are grieving over Milo, the son they lost and their own marriage which is falling apart. The other ...   Read More

Dorothy T.

Delightful read
There's something for everybody here--family relationships, English history, animals, romance, humor, and tears. The title leaves out one aspect that I found very special--the London Underground lost and found department. There are well-developed ...   Read More

Dolena W. (Dallas, TX)

A Laugh, A Little Sadness and Lots of Warmth
I love this book! I loved it from the first page until the last page. I cannot wait until it is published so that I can give it to my friends. This book is chock full of humor, but the laughs are not its purpose and they do not distract from the...   Read More

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The Tower of London

If you've read the The Tower, The Zoo and The Tortoise you'll already have been taken on a veritable history tour of The Tower of London and the Yeoman Warders, popularly known as Beefeaters, who guard it. For those who haven't read the book yet or, for that matter have but would like a quick summary of some of the history of the Tower, here are a few highlights (and below the review you'll find more about the Beefeaters):

Tower of LondonWhere is the Tower and why was it built? William the Conqueror defeated King Harold at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and was subsequently crowned king. A few years later, having subjugated most of his new land, William started work on a citadel in South-East London, to awe his new subjects and to defend the ...

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