... by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand - The Velveteen Rabbit
by Margery Williams.
When Buckingham Palace announce that the Queen's exotic animals will be moved from London Zoo to the Tower Of London, Beefeater Balthazar Jones, owner of the world's oldest tortoise and collector of rare raindrops, is charged with minding them.
The magical (and ghostly), labyrinthine world of the Tower is already home and workplace to a strange collection of creatures - including the Reverend Septimus Drew, the Ravenmaster, and Ruby Dore, landlady of the Rack And Ruin, and, of course, Jones and his wife, the spectacular and fiery Hebe. Once it was home too for Milo, their young son, but then came the fateful day that haunts them both.
With the Tower made busier and stranger still by the addition of (among others) marmosets, a Komodo dragon, and even a zorilla it is easy for Balthazar to avoid the past. but ill his marriage and the menagerie all make it through in one piece?
..... from the outer back cover.
FIRST SENTENCE: Standing on the battlements in his pyjamas, Balthazar Jones looked out across the Thames where Henry III's polar bear had once fished for salmon while tied to a rope.
MEMORABLE MOMENT: "The removal man says he stopped for petrol and when he came back from paying, both the back and passenger doors were open and they'd vanished."
"Who was in the passenger seat?"
The beefeater looked away. "One of the penguins," he muttered.
Positively the best book I have read so far this year. Warm, touching, sad and yet very funny - I loved every sentence, every paragraph, every page, every chapter that was Balthazar Jones And The Tower Of London Zoo.
Not just about the zoo though, the book also told the wonderful story of Mrs Jones, Hebe, who worked in London Underground's Lost Property Office alongside Valerie - the antics of whom had me laughing till the tears came.
A wonderful story that has so many aspects to it, animals, intrigue and romance included. Peopled by a vast array of characters, all of whom are eccentric in one way or another and yet totally believable at the same time, I'd be hard pushed to say just who my favourites were as there were so many but I'd probably go with the aforementioned Valerie and her catalogue of mishaps, usually involving her 'love interest' Arthur Catnip AND, perhaps, most loved of all, the Reverend Septimus Drew who, shall we say, as well as a chaplain, had an interesting sideline in the, err, 'creative arts'.
Then, of course, there were the vast range of animals, including the missing penguins, the giraffes who seemingly came from nowhere and Mrs Cook, the oldest tortoise in the world, who provided much of the humour and a great ending.
A reading group read, I can't wait to see what the others thought of this book. For myself, I'm so glad I had the opportunity to read it and would recommend it to you all as a stunning and original story.