BookBrowse Reviews The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart

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The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise

A Novel

by Julia Stuart

The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2010, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2011, 320 pages

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A quirky novel about a menagerie of animals and people housed within The Tower of London

22 out of 27 BookBrowse readers rated The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise 4 or 5 stars. Here's what they had to say:

The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise takes us inside the Tower of London, a place so saturated with history that ghosts ooze out everywhere. The care of a menagerie of animals (gifts to Queen Elizabeth, from all over the world) falls to one of the Tower guards, a Beefeater. These exotic animals are lost, uprooted from homes in jungles and plains, and now housed in moats and towers (Mark O). But the real story is the humans. Human characters who are all eccentric, flawed, but fascinating. With one or two exceptions, all of the characters seem familiar. Not because they are stereotypical, because they are anything but. They are familiar because they so resemble the people we all know who live quiet lives, waiting for joy to come or return to their lives (Dolena W).

For whatever reason - perhaps the whimsical cover - I was expecting this book to suffer from quirk overload. However, I was so pleasantly surprised by what I found instead. A really moving, engaging, and original narrative that - through some extraordinary circumstances - reveals a lot about the human capacity to love and to mourn (Tom B). While filled with delicious tidbits about the Tower of London and interesting British history in general, this book is more about the power of love and how it can transform even the deepest of grief (Diana C). In fact, this book is a story of losses. Some of these losses are terrible, sad, life-changing or bizarre. But the opposite of lost is found and the London Underground's Lost Property Office seems a mirror of life. Things thought irretrievably lost can be found again: happiness, purpose, and life-long mates, whether one is human or albatross (Mark O).

While reading this engaging story, I felt as though I was on an unexpected vacation. The hilarious (and sometimes very poignant) descriptions of the tower residents (animals included) are a delight. The Tower of London seems like a character in its own right, and the history is fascinating. I would love to work with Hebe and Valarie at the London Underground Lost Property Office! The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise hit the right note with me - I found it charming, entertaining, and very uplifting. (Sandra L). I read this story shortly after finishing The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played With Fire by Steig Larsson. The contrast was like the light at the end of the tunnel. I'd give a 5 to all three, but what a difference (Kitty H)!

But some readers were not quite so delighted with The Tower's quirkiness:

After reading several other reader's reviews, it seems that people either absolutely LOVE this book, or are not taken by it. I fall into the latter category. It was a clever idea, had some fun quirky, moments, but I felt that the author tried so hard to be clever that it lost most of its charm. Julia Stuart certainly has a way with words but she went overboard on this one (Kate S). Being an avowed Anglophile, I was prepared to love this book. Instead it seemed to me to be a book that was trying too hard to be oh so charming. It was fun to read factoids about the history of the Tower of London but there was so much going on in the book that it was hard to focus on their characters, much less develop a compelling interest in their issues (Patricia W).

Ms. Stuart was trying to emulate the style of a Victorian novel, I presume, but I found it distracting and tedious that she kept repeating some things over and over. Perhaps she is in love with her words or maybe it's careless editing (Susan R), [but] it took great restraint on my part to not throw the book against the wall after reading, yet again, about "fullsome buttocks." And that's just one of many, many annoying little phrases that Stuart feels compelled to endlessly inject into the novel. This ridiculous conceit doesn't propel the plot or enhance the story, and it really irritated at least one reader (Heather K)!

So, perhaps it's not for everyone, but most of our readers were as charmed as Elena S:

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."

This review was originally published in September 2010, and has been updated for the August 2011 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.



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