Reading guide for 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
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2010, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2011, 320 pages

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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 humor. Do you think that there is any difference between British and American humor? 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. It is claimed that Sir Walter Raleigh and many other spirits 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?



Quiz

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?

  1. Call your best friend who works at the local "Lost and Found" and report a missing mammal.
  2. Sit idle. Pigs, regardless of size are too fast to catch.
  3. Grab a handful of fruits and veggies from the fridge and head out to lure the piglet back to safety.
  4. 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?

  1. 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?
  2. Enjoy some shade in Central Park. No need to exhaust yourself in the concrete jungle just yet.
  3. Take a leisurely stroll through Central Park Zoo. You've heard there are new chinstrap penguins in the Penguin House!
  4. 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?

  1. Catching up on the latest town gossip with your best friend.
  2. Work? I've been retired…for a very long time. Every day is a day off!
  3. At the local pub. Every vacation day deserves its own toast!
  4. 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?

  1. 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.
  2. Piece of cake. My outerwear is always durable…and I could use a good rinse.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?

  1. Santorini, Greece: You love the history and heritage, not to mention the views!
  2. 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.
  3. South Africa: You'll finally be able to see wild animals in their natural habitat.
  4. 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.

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Anchor Books. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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