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.
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
“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)
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big fat disappointment
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!