02 August 2010

My new favorite book for the fall

If I had only one word to describe this book, I’d be hard-pressed to choose between “delightful” and “charming.” It’s one of those rare gems that introduces you to indelibly quirky characters, showcases a meandering plot that is utterly rewarding, and provides just as many laugh-out-loud moments as poignant ones. Balthazar Jones is a Beefeater who lives in the Tower of London with his wife, Hebe, who escapes during the day to run an outrageous Lost and Found office for the London Underground. Because of Balthazar’s proprietary relationship with Mrs. Cook, the world’s oldest living tortoise, the Queen decides to transfer the royal bestiary from the London Zoo back to the Tower, where Queen Elizabeth I originally housed it. Along the way we encounter missing penguins, a purloined bearded pig, the troublesome ghost of Sir Walter Raleigh, and the Tower chaplain, who moonlights as both a rat exterminator and a bestselling writer of women’s erotica with a strong moralistic tone, under the pseudonym Vivienne Ventress. I can’t tell you the last time I read a book filled with such wonderment, and it really is a joy to read a book whose literary value isn’t compromised by its sparkle and charm. People who loved The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society or Major Pettigrew's Last Stand will love this one, too, as will anybody who enjoys books that are pleasantly offbeat and filled with British humor. It was simply enchanting.

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