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Balthazar Jones and the Tower of London Zoo…

Balthazar Jones and the Tower of London Zoo (edition 2010)

by Julia Stuart (Author)

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95411715,698 (3.74)99
When Balthazar Jones is tasked with setting up an elaborate menagerie within the Tower of London's 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 his wife Hebe decides to leave him and his beloved tortoise "runs" away.… (more)
Title:Balthazar Jones and the Tower of London Zoo
Authors:Julia Stuart (Author)
Info:William Collins (2010)
Collections:Your library, To read

Work details

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

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Showing 1-5 of 118 (next | show all)
Reading Julia Stuart's 2010 novel “The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise,” one might wonder how a book so melancholy can be so funny. Or how a book so funny can be so melancholy. Or even how a book so funny and melancholy can convey so much obscure British history.

At one time, before they were moved to the London Zoo, animals given to the British monarch by other countries were housed in the Tower of London. Stuart imagines that happening again. What if the queen, who often does receive unwanted gifts of animals from foreign governments, decided to move these animals from the zoo back to the Tower?

Balthazar Jones, a beefeater at the Tower, is put in charge of the menagerie. Beefeater is a term long ago applied to the uniformed guards at the Tower because at the time they were among the few British subjects who were regularly served meat at their meals. Today, Stuart assures us, beefeaters are more tour guides than torturers.

While the animals, including the ravens that have traditionally lived in the Tower (actually a fortress with many towers) and an aged tortoise named Mrs. Cook kept by Balthazar Jones as a pet, inspire much of the novel's humor, it is the wild life of the human residents that lies at the heart of the story. Everywhere Stuart turns there seems to be either excited romance or broken hearts, often both at once.

As for Balthazar Jones (Stuart always mentions her characters by their full names), he and his wife, Hebe Jones, seemed to have lost their love for each other when they lost their beloved son, who simply died in his sleep. Now Hebe Jones leaves her husband and the Tower, devoting her life to her job at the London Underground lost and found office, another great inspiration for the novel's humor (and not a little extra melancholy).

Like Stuart herself, her characters all seem fascinated by the oddities of British history, certainly a handy asset for tour guides. In fact, whenever romance blossoms, odd historical facts serve nicely as terms of endearment and museums as the ideal place to impress a date.

The novel makes wonderful reading, every bit as odd and interesting as the most peculiar British history. ( )
  hardlyhardy | Apr 27, 2020 |
The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise follows a Tower of London Beefeater and his wife as they try to pick up the pieces of their lives and save their marriage after the death of their only child. I enjoyed the book's peek into the life behind the Tower's walls. This aspect of the book fascinated me. The relationship between Balthazar Jones and his wife, Hebe, was very poignant and bittersweet in spite of their tragic loss. The addition of humorous scenes with the animals of the Tower zoo offset this and kept the book from being too heavy. This book was sweet, funny, and touching, so it was a wonderful read. ( )
  BookishHooker | Dec 16, 2019 |
Yes, the Beefeaters that patrol the London Tower do actually live there, and their lives are tied closely to the centuries of history at London's oldest prison. This book is quite delightful, and the characters are very enjoyable. I feel like I know Balthazar Jones and his wife Hebe and his wife Hebe who works at the Lost Property Department of the London Underground and he has many friends such as the Reverend Septimus Drew and the lady who runs the Rack and Ruin Pub. They are all so unique and funny. This book made me laugh out loud numerous times and it made me shake my head many times more. The book centres around the Royal plan to move her animals that she has received as gifts from the London Zoo to the Tower and to recreate an historical event when there was a Royal menagerie at The Tower. Balthazar is put in charge of the move and the animals, and he forms a bond with them all, even up to the lovelorn albatross. It was such a fun and enjoyable book , so if you're in the mood for whimsy, give it a try. ( )
  Romonko | Sep 4, 2019 |
This story is set in the Tower of London complex occupied by the Beefeaters, who act as tourist guides and guards. It is a whimsical telling of the lives of two main characters, Beefeater Warden Balthazar Jones and his wife Hebe. During the reign of Queen Victoria, there was a menagerie of animals kept at the Tower complex, but these animals were later housed at London Zoo. A decision was made to rehouse at the Tower those animals given the Queen as gifts, and Balthazar Jones is chosen as keeper of this new menagerie. Heaven forbid that any animal might die and cause an international incident with the country that had gifted it.
Hebe Jones works at the Lost Property Office where she and her fellow attendant, Margaret, deal with all sorts of lost property and attempt to locate the owners. They obviously have a very large storeroom as there are dozens of wheelchairs, a canoe, magicians’ box, urn of ashes, and thousands of other items stored there, every item and its location carefully logged in handwritten registers.
Woven in among the main characters are a collection of minor, and equally absorbing, characters both at the Tower and the Lost Property office.
But this story isn’t really about the Tower zoo or the Lost Property office. It is about the grief that Balthazar and Hebe Jones are dealing with following the sudden and unexpected death of their eleven-year-old son Milo. This is a story of hope and acceptance wrapped in a delightful collection of characters and events.
( )
  IMSauman | Dec 31, 2018 |
I wanted to like this book but somehow I felt something was missing. There were some funny moments, for sure, but overall seemed not quite as charming as described. I fretted for the animals, who seemed poorly cared for. The characters felt flat and I never really cared about them. The turtle was not present for the bulk of the book. Yet, most readers loved the story! What did I miss?? ( )
  melanieklo | Jul 25, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 118 (next | show all)
The ancient and sinister Tower of London that lures more than 2 million visitors a year would be an inspiration for any writer, especially one with the kind of whimsical imagination from which sprouts a world of ravenous ravens and a 181-year old tortoise called Mrs. Cross whose tail has been replaced by a parsnip.

Not to mention a Beefeater who collects exotic rain, patronizes a tower tavern called The Rack and Ruin and the ghost of Sir Walter Raleigh, who pollutes the place by his nightly smoking.

Ms. Stuart has concocted a marvelous confection of a book in which she writes of a unique cast of characters. The occupants of the royal menagerie, established in the tower in the 13th century, range from a royal polar bear that fished for salmon in the Thames to a golden snub-nosed monkey with titian hair christened the duchess of York.

What could have been heavy-handed whimsy has in this writer’s hands become a charming spoof that portrays the life and rather tragic times of Balthazar Jones, overseer of the tower’s royal menagerie and a man whose living quarters, while historic, provide evidence of just how uncomfortably damp life could be in the good old days.

Jones, weighed down by grief over the death of his young son and his failing marriage to Hebe Jones, is a member of that exclusive group known as Beefeaters who are the official guardians of the tower. In the 16th and 17th centuries these yeoman warders, as they were known, not only guarded royal prisoners but sometimes had the task of torturing them.

Jones’ duties are less onerous, but he is less than enthusiastic to hear that his responsibilities have been expanded to include managing a new royal menagerie of the animals given to the monarch as gifts to be moved on the queen’s orders from the London zoo to the tower. The queen, it is explained,considers it rude to return gifts, however unlikely.

A palace equerry sips tea and nibbles scones supposedly handmade by her majesty while describing to Jones the kind of animals he will be caring for. While emphasizing the seven centuries of tradition of a royal menagerie at the tower, the man from the palace notes that her majesty is “rather partial to tortoises” and is aware that Jones is already in possession of the venerable Mrs. Cross. Left unmentioned is the fact that the voracious ravens of the tower, which favor blood-soaked bread in their diet, had chewed off Mrs. Cross’ tail.

Jones’ late son had come up with the ingenious idea of implanting a parsnip where it showed and nobody seemed to notice, perhaps with the exception of Mrs. Cross. According to the emissary, due to be included in the new menagerie are toucans from the president of Peru, a zorilla which is a “highly revered yet uniquely odorous skunklike animal from Africa,” marmosets from Brazil, flying possums that “get depressed if you don’t give them enough attention,” a Russian “glutton” that looks like a small bear and has a huge appetite and a Komodo dragon that “is carnivorous, can take down a horse, and has a ferocious bite.”

In addition, the equerry announces, there will be some crested water dragons known as “Jesus Christ lizards” sent from the president of Costa Rica, and an Etruscan shrew from the president of Portugal that is “the smallest land mammal in the world, can sit in a teaspoon and is so highly strung it can die from being handled.”

On a final note, the man from the palace cautions Jones to keep the lovebirds separated. “They hate each other,” he explains. Jones finds none of this cheering news, especially when the removal of animals from the zoo to the tower turns into the kind of chaos that involves the mysterious disappearance of an entire flock of Argentinian penguins which the beleaguered Beefeater has to justify to the public by explaining they are at the vet’s office.

It is a tribute to Ms. Stuart’s skill that she interweaves a little poignancy into her hilarious story, with a touching account of the death of Milo, small son of Jones and his wife that has resulted in their estrangement.

However, even the character of Hebe Jones is threaded with dark humor because she works at the Department of Lost Property at the London underground, where the lost are neatly packaged yet often never found or even sought. The author digs into that gold mine. The department’s most frequent customer is “cloud thin” Samuel Crapper, who comes to retrieve a lost tomato plant and doesn’t realize that four of its tomatoes had already been eaten on toasted cheese.

And there is the account of how the ashes of his dead wife were restored to a man crushed by their loss. He is not only overjoyed but promptly goes out and plants the urn in his back garden. There is even what passes for a happy ending because the queen decides to send the menagerie back to the zoo, with the exception of the Etruscan shrew that died without anyone noticing.

Jones is reunited with his wife, and finds he misses the bearded pig that used to snuggle up to him between games of roll the grapefruit. But he is consoled that the depressed wandering albatross cheers up when it finds its mate is still waiting for it at the zoo.
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We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals. —Immanuel Kant
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Standing on the battlements in his pajamas, Balthazar Jones looked out across the Thames where Henry III's polar bear had once fished for salmon while tied to a rope.
“A lucky person is one who plants pebbles and harvests potatoes.”  ~ Hebe Jones
"Don't extend your feet beyond the blanket."  ~ Hebe Jones
"Don't sprout where you haven't been planted."  ~ Hebe Jones
"An old hen is worth 40 chickens." ~  Hebe Jones
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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When Balthazar Jones is tasked with setting up an elaborate menagerie within the Tower of London's 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 his wife Hebe decides to leave him and his beloved tortoise "runs" away.

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