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Monday, September 20, 2010

The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortise by Julia Stuart

This week on Royal Reviews it’s London Calling Week, so make sure you stop by and check out what our reviewers are reading that features Jolly Old England.

Title- The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise
Author- Julia Stuart
Publisher- Double Day
Release Date- August 10, 2010
Format- Hardcover 320 pages
How I read it- Trade Paperback ARC
Rating 4 Crowns

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.
(from the publisher)

My thoughts:

I have heard The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise is being compared to the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and I have to say that I agree. Like Guernsey, The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise, focuses on the behavior of those living in a confined area and the relationships that develop or crumble as a result. It also addresses the question that I have often wondered “What do those Beefeaters get up to when the tourist goes home”?.

With lovable characters that touch your heart, and bring a smile to your face, The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise is undeniably a charming and hilarious tale. When Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, decides that she is going to reopen the Royal Menagerie at the Tower, the only man who seems equipped to handle the job is the man who owns a 181 year old pet Tortoise, Balthazar Jones. Balthazar is a unique man with an odd passion for collecting rain in small Egyptian perfume bottles. After the death of his their young son Milo, Balthazar and his wife Hebe, who works for the Lost and Found department of the London Underground, find their marriage to be in ruins. With the arrival of the animals for the menagerie Hebe Jones departs from her husband and the damp, dank Tower.

The Jones are not only hilarious and lovable bunch living with-in the Tower Walls, the author has included a cast of characters that read like a listing of a comedy. One would be remiss if they failed to mention the charming owner of the Tower’s Pub the Rack and Ruin, Ruby Dore, who’s birth was afflicted by a game of monopoly. Also included is the Tower chaplain , Reverend Septimus Drew who unbeknownst to the Tower residents, has become the leading novelist in a genre not often associated with a member of the clergy. There is also the rather randy Ravenmaster, who misdeeds are parroted around the Tower. One must also make mention of Mrs. Cook, the 181 year old tortoise, who has a sea-worthy past, and an axe to grind with some very naughty ravens. I must also make mention of one of the Towers most notorious prisoners, Sir Walter Raleigh, who still wonders around, usually uttering profanities about the Spanish. Those are only some residents inside the Tower Walls. Outside it premises is a whole other cast that is as equally as alluring. Hebe Jones’ colleague, Valerie Jennings, finds love in the lost and found. While Arthur Catnip searches for a way to catch the heart of a lady he’s come to love. And I cannot leave out the Lost Property Offices most frequent customer, Samuel Crapper.

While The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise is a witty, comical read, it has heart and soul that will the draw the reader in and hold their attention. A laugh-out-loud novel, that could be aptly called ’a barrel of monkeys’, it should be on the top of everyone’s to be read list. If this book fails to put a smile on your face I do not know what will.

The Tower throughout History

-In 1066-1087, the construction of the Tower of London begins sometime during the reign of William the Conquer

-In 1204 King John ships 3 boatloads of wild animals back to London from the Norman territories- which is the possible start of the Royal Menagerie

-In 1240 Henry III orders the central keep be whitewashed inside and out thus giving it the name of the White Tower, 11 years later in 1251 he receives a “white bear” and its keeper from Norway

-1255 sees the arrival of an African elephant from Louis IX of France

-In 1381 the Tower is stormed in what is known as the Peasant’s Revolt in-which the Archbishop of Canterbury is killed.

-1539 is the first record of official torture taking place at the Tower.

-1554 Princess Elizabeth is a ‘guest’ at the Tower while being questioned about her knowledge of plots against her half sister, Mary I

-1592 Sir Walter Raleigh is imprisoned for marrying one of Elizabeth’s ladies-in-waiting without the permission of the Queen

-1603-1616 Raleigh is imprisoned again, for treason

-1618 Raleigh embarked on his third and final stay in the Tower, this time for deliberately inciting a war between Spain and England. He is executed in Westminster on the same year.

-1640 The last “official torture” is recorded at the Tower

-1671 Colonel Blood and his gang attempt to steal the Crown Jewels

-1780-1781- Henry Laurens (a powerful merchant from South Carolina) is the first and last US citizen to be imprisoned at the Tower. He was held on suspicion of High Treason for his part in the American Struggle for in the War of Independence

-In 1811 Martin, the first grizzly bear seen in England, is presented to George III by the Hudson Bay Company.

-1828 a secretary bird puts its head into the hyena den and is deprived of it in one bite.

-1829 Over 160 animals are catalogued in the menagerie, including a pig-faced baboon, 100 rattlesnakes, and two llamas

-1830 The Times announces that the 150 of the menagerie’s animals are to be presented to the newly formed Zoological Society of London

-1835 The Royal Menagerie is closed.

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Lady Q said...

This one's sitting on my TBR shelf - I think I need to bump it up to the top!

Tina said...

Just arrived this week, and I can't wait to dive in. In addition, I'm hosting a giveaway for this one on Tutu's Two Cents.

Rebecca said...

I am currently reading this. Its very intresting so far. I am looking forward to a quite evening tonight to really dive in.

Anne Bennett said...

I want to read this book now. Thanks for this wonderful review. What a find. I also just became a follower and I joined your audiobook challenge....glutton for punishment.

It was a long week and now a relaxing sunny week-end. Please hop over to my blog and take part in my poll about Banned Books. Thanks.