The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise by Julia Stuart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
She had me at "the zoo". Between that and the funny cartoon-ish cover, it was an automatic read for me. No, I didn't read the back or a review or anything. I mean, it had a zoo and a turtle and a British Tower guard - it had to be good. Yes, this is how I also came to read "Water for Elephants", "Night Circus" and "Tiger's Wife" - all good books! Okay, so back to The Tower.
This book had me alternating between cracking up laughing and being a little sad, even dropping a few tears. (A really crazy mix of reactions anyway, but even more so when sitting on a pool deck and folks are looking at you like "what the heck?"). Without revealing too much of the goings on in the book, here's a few things that I liked, surprised me, and I found interesting.
- because I like random useful facts, I liked the tidbits about the Tower of London, which I would assume are true, otherwise surely some Anglophile or the historical society of London would not be too happy,
- the author identified everyone by their full name, all the time, and or some other long description, which I found amusing.
- she also did this for pets (Mrs. Cook, the 108- year old tortoise, a descendent of a pet tortoise of a famous pirate) and rodents (the vile creatures that weren't even named in the Bible).
- at first I thought her repetition of descriptions or facts was an editing oversight, but soon realized it was a clever, amusing redundancy. Sometimes she changed it up a little bit, and you received some other factoid about the character
- the zoo! I've been to the London Zoo, so I felt like I had some little piece of reference for one of the settings of the story
The main story thread is one about a Beefeater, Balthazar Jones, a guard at the Tower of London, and his wife, an agent at the lost & found for the Underground (London's subway system). They live at the Tower, along with an amusing cast of characters - other guards & their wives, a priest, the pub owner. But, they are without their young son, who passed a few years earlier (yes, you find out how, but I'm not going to tell you) and adjusting to this new life and new definition of themselves of not being parents anymore. Apparently, being a Guard and answering silly tourists' questions gets kinda boring, but Balthazar Jones wasn't really looking for the excitement of being in charge of the menagerie of gifted animals the Queen has decided to relocate from the London Zoo to the Tower. His career as a zookeeper begins with losing the penguins and almost beheading the giraffes. The presence of the animals upsets the balance of life at the Tower in an entertaining confusion of events.
The author weaves the lives of each character together to create an amusing, thoughtful, emotional, can't-put-down tapestry of a story.
It was a fun read that made me regret not going to see the Crown Jewels and the ghosts on my trip to London last year.
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