It seems that each time I begin to talk about The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise, I mistakenly suggest that the story is set more than a hundred years ago. This is not the case, as the setting is contemporary, but the “old world” atmosphere pervades the novel in a way that is truly enchanting. The author’s antique writing style voiced through Jonathan Crowley’s charming British narration offers a unique and captivating experience for the listener.
Balthazar Jones and his wife Hebe have lived in the Tower of London for eight years while he works as a Beefeater (yes, they still exist), a guardian of the Tower. The two have lived quiet lives of desperation ever since their 11-year-old son Milo suddenly passed away in his sleep. Their quiet lives are disrupted when Balthazar is assigned the responsibility of overseeing the opening of a menagerie in the Tower of London filled with monkeys and giraffes and any other animals given as gifts to the Queen of England during her lifetime. With the abrupt change of pace, Balthazar’s grief is put on hold as he redirects his focus and consideration towards a herd of animals suddenly in his care.
Balthazar and Hebe are joined by a cast of characters that includes a secretly-pregnant barmaid named Ruby, a clergyman who happens to also write a best-selling erotica series, a clerk named Valerie who works in the Department of Lost Property for the London Underground with Hebe, and a 181-year-old tortoise named Mrs. Cook, who has been in the Jones family’s care since before Milo was born.
The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise is a beautifully crafted story that unfolds and peels back the layers of each character in an immensely gratifying way. There is grief and heartbreak, but there is also love, passion, humor, and a lot of charm to be found in this story. But best of all is the experience of hearing it aloud, and Jonathan Crowley delivers a sincerely moving narration to complement this lovely story. Suzanne Day
Brimming with charm and whimsy, this exquisite novel 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 Society, The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise is a magical, wholly original novel whose irresistible characters will stay with you long after.
©2010 Julia Stuart (P)2010 Random House
“Charming, witty, and heartfelt, Stuart's second novel is even more delightful than her debut, The Matchmaker of Périgord. A perfect suggestion for fans of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society; highly recommended.” (Library Journal)
“A Beefeater, his wife, and their nearly 180-year-old tortoise live in the Tower of London, and if Stuart’s deadly charming sophomore novel (after The Matchmaker of Périgord) is any indication, the fortress is as full of intrigue as ever…the love story is adorable.” (Publisher’s Weekly)
“The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise is grounded by the moving central love story. This sweet romp will appeal to history buffs.” (Kirkus Reviews)
Having listening to over 800 books over the last 19 years, this is the first time I have written a review....This book was over touted and a big fat disappointment. I wonder what the writer really wrote and what the editor published. It did not bring a smile to my face, let alone a laugh. The narrator was dull at best and did not bring the characters any life. I was previewing for my book club and it will get a NO!
The story was original as it was a fictional story mixed in with fascinating historical facts about the Tower of London.
I loved the parts about the animals, when the Royal Menagerie is moved to the Tower for a short while. Really hillarious! I also very much enjoyed the work of the women who try to find the owners of all the weird items that are left on the London Underground. Very intertaining!
The main character is fascinating, having held on to a guilt for so long and developed an odd behavior to cover it up. All the characters are quirky and unique, which makes this book a wonderful listen.
All the main characters have something sad about their life, and of course I felt that too although I did not get overwhelmed by it due to the funny aspects of the story.
The reader has a pleasant and clear voice.
I found this novel to be a hidden gem; however, I enjoy the subdued British humor. I found myself laughing out loud at some of the ridiculous situational antics and how our stoic hero handles them.
The author seems to be creating a satiric play on some of the excesses the world’s diplomats inflict on our governments. Similarly, she plays up the British worship of their traditions in the monarchy and the excesses required to keep up the accoutrements and trappings of that station. As usual with this author, the extreme British reserve to all things emotional is displayed with devastating accuracy.
The narrator was good at displaying the subdued humor with appropriate straight-man aplomb.
All in all, I found the novel to be entertaining. However, it is not an exciting offering and does not seem to have a well-defined plot. It seems to me to be more of a serial British sit-com.
If you like the British humor (or humour), this might be for you. If you’re the kind that want suspense, rowdy plot-lines, mysteries or romance, you may want to give this one a miss.
A smart, charming story ! Characters who will stay with you for a long time.
I have recommend this book to many of my friends. Listen and enjoy.
Whimsical,funny yet poignant.
I laughed and at times I cried.
If you don't like subtle, dry humor you probably won't care for this book. I do and I loved this book. In addition, the author throws in lots of zany historical facts about former inhabitants of the Tower of London.
I LOVED Stuart's Pigeon Pie Mystery and this one was described as a modern story but with period flavor. Not true. The narrator gives a dull, monotone recitation and the story holds no charm.
Not sure but another might be able to lift up the story.
Jon Cowley's voice is like music. His expression and intonation is excellent. The only reason he didn't get top rating is that he was a bit slow. This was easily solved by bumping the speed up to 1 and 1/2.
The book was as disjointed as it's title. Several sets of characters going about their rather average lives with no tie between them except they live in the same "neighborhood".
The main story's conclusion can't be called anti-climax since there was not climax, anywhere. I'm wondering if the author was paid by the word because I didn't need to be told over 20 times that the stair railing was filthy or the colour and shape of someone's shoes.
The promise of an ending explaining the one "mystery" did have me listen to the book to the end (ok, the voice of JC would be lovely reading a biscuit label) but even that was disappointing.
I loved the bits of obscure history bulking out the novel but if you are not into these tidbits, which had me languishing in Wikipedia for hours, you will be frustrated.
I listened to this book as part of my book club and while it certainly broadened my horizons (I would not have picked this out on my own), that's about all it did. This book annoyed me and perhaps even tormented me a bit, having to finish it but not wanting to. By the end of the book I felt a bit sorry for the main character and even might have liked him a bit and his wife too, for that matter...but that's about it. It was just kind of a pointless story.
Nothing...it's just not my kind of book!
I chose this book because a friend thoroughly enjoyed it. It is full of English humor, which I now realize I don't really care for. But it isn't awful. The narraton was superb.
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