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

On paper The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise should be the perfect book for me. However in reality, it just didn't work.

The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart revolves around the the lives of the wacky residents of the Tower of London, particularly Beefeater Balthazar Jones, his wife and 180 year old pet tortoise. Balthazar is grieving the death of his young son and barely performing his duties as a guard of the Tower. Unexpectedly, the Queen decides that all the animals she's been given as gifts must now live in the Tower and Balthazar is chosen as zookeeper. Why a man with no professional experience with animals was picked to take care of such precious creatures is beyond me.

I'm a lover of quirky novels. Usually I say "Quirky? Bring it on!" the weirder the better but it might have been too much quirk even for me. The thing is everyone in this book is quirky: Balthazar collects rain water in glass jars, the minister writes erotica under a nom de plume, all the minor characters have peculiarities up the wazoo. It was quirk overload. Not only that, everyone, including the tortoise, has a back story. I don't mind these elements at the beginning of the book to set up the story but it was constant throughout. Just when I was settling into the story, I was distracted by some event that happened in the past.

Another aspect of The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise that I wasn't enamored with was the detached style of the writing. There was little dialogue and often the reader is told what is happening. There were secondary plots that didn't go anywhere (Sir Walter Raleigh). The characters, if I had to describe them, resemble gray blobs of sadness. They made me sad...and tired. I needed naps. It took me much longer than it should have to finish this rather short book.

I didn't completely give up on it, obviously. The premise is an interesting one and I did want to find out how some of the storylines turned out. I was determined to finish it. My opinion is in the minority, I know. After reading the Goodreads reviews, I discovered most people loved it. However, I can't help how I feel about it. It is what it is, people. Maybe you have or will enjoy it more than I did.

Thanks to Random House for the review copy.


  1. My feelings were very much the same as yours, expect that I have a low tolerance for quirkiness in general, so the quirkiness in this book wore thin extremely quickly. I couldn't even finish it, I was so tired of the goofy little anecdotes and repetitive jokes. What a disappointment because it did sound like a fun read.

  2. I still have this one waiting for me on my shelf...someday I'll get to it, though now I'll expect the quirk to abound.

  3. I'm sorry you didn't like this book -- it was one of my favorites of 2010.

  4. Teresa- It was much even for me.

    Melissa- Hope you like it!

    Suzanne- I'm glad you enjoyed it.

  5. Sorry to see it was too quirky for you.

  6. I don't like it when a book has little dialogue. It makes the story a bit boring. Sorry you didn't love this one. :)

  7. I thought it was cute, but I was a bit underwhelmed by the time it was all over.

  8. Hmmm - this one sounded to me like just my kind of quirky books, but now I'm re-thinking. I love quirky but quirky overload doesn't sound good. Maybe this will go on the library list rather than the buy list . . . that way if I decide I don't love it I won't feel so bad.

    I love reading minority opinions - helps me round out my expectations.


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