Monday, September 6, 2010

Book Review: "The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise" by Julia Stuart

This book is a charming and sweet story of a Beefeater and his wife, struggling with the challenges of life, love, grief and work, set against the backdrop of the Tower of London and the building of an unusual zoo there. It isn't quite as magical as I hoped it would be, but I still found myself thinking about the characters after the book ended.

Balthazar Jones is not a very successful Beefeater; he is consistently criticized by his boss for his lack of vigilance to pickpockets at the Tower of London. He is somehow selected by the Queen of England's staff to be in charge of a new zoo at the Tower, populated by the unusual animals the Queen has received from various heads of state. While the zoo brings both comfort and anxiety to Balthazar, it highlights the challenges he and his wife, Hebe, have experienced since the sudden death of their son, and the animals also serve as a catalyst in the lives of many other Tower residents.

The book is full of situations that arise because people aren't communicating clearly with one another. Hebe thinks Balthazar no longer grieves for their son since he doesn't talk about it; the Tower chaplain is in love with the owner of a bar but is afraid to express his love for her; Balthazar is struck by the guilt he feels about his son's death; and the Tower's Ravenmaster resents the lack of respect his birds get, especially with the arrival of the zoo. Needless to say, dealing with people who can't or won't communicate with one another is a little frustrating, so at times I wished the characters would just tell each other what they were feeling. But the book's ending was satisfying and heartwarming, so a little frustration was worth it. While this story didn't wow me, it was a simple, straightforward, enjoyable little book.

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