Sunday, February 20, 2011

Now for some British whimsy

From Meg's Book Nook
Spring taunted us for a few days before sending us back to sub zero temperatures and a lovely wintry mix for today. So, I'm finally sitting down to write up a review for a book that just made me cozy up with a hot cup of tea and buttery toast every time I opened it.

Julia Stuart's The Tower, The Zoo and The Tortoise is full of whimsy and fun. It is a cozy read; comforting it its British quirkiness and zany characters. The story follows the lives of residents of The Tower of London. Balthazar Jones, a Beefeater who collects rain and mourns the death of his young son, his wife, Hebe, who works at the Lost Property Office of the London Underground and is determined to return a lost urn to its owner. We have a priest who writes erotic fiction, a pub owner recently pregnant and a closet historian. An odious Ravenmaster and a grumpy Chief round out the cast of characters. Into all of that, the Queen decides it is time to reopen the Royal Menagerie at the Tower and Balthazar Jones is chosen to run it thanks to the oldest tortoise in the world belonging to him.

Doesn't that just sound like fun? All the quirks and sadness that fills this book (Balthazar and Hebe both are unable to mourn the lost their son in a way that lets them heal), I would still love to have a pint with every single character at the Rack and Ruin (the pub within the walls of the Tower). I want to laugh with them over the ridiculous tourists who daily invade their home; I want to ooo and ahhh over the grand Monopoly games played at the Rack and help them make the canary sing.

The setting of the book adds to its magic. Stuart obviously did her homework on the storied history of the Tower and I feel like I learned more from this book than my visit to the Tower years ago. She avoids the obvious draws. There is only brief mentions of the Crown Jewels and the beheaded subjects that were executed on the Tower Green. She introduces you to the various escapees over the years, dispels some popular myths (the Empire won't fall if there aren't Ravens at the Tower) and makes ghosts characters to the plot.

A perfect read for a wintry day. Just make sure you have a lot of Earl Grey on hand. 

Walking in the Tower, Fall 2005. I now try and figure out where the Jones' live! Picture by Krystal Thomas

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