The Chestnut Roaster by Eve McDonnell illustrations by Ewa Beniak- Haremska

The Chestnut Roaster is an utterly mesmerising read. It is a story of good versus evil, imaginative and original, carrying the reader along in an adventure that defies labelling. Historical fiction and fantasy combine to create something refreshingly different and memorable.

Cover by Holly Ovenden

Set in Paris in 1888 during the period known as the ‘Belle Epoque’ or ‘beautiful era’ the story opens at a busy street corner where a tiny girl stands at her chestnut roaster. Piaf, named after the sparrow she resembles, is approached by a mysterious, sinister stranger who claims to know her. Piaf is equally sure that he does not. She is confident in this assertion as she is able to remember everything. Every small detail since the day she was born twelve years ago on All Fools’ Day is lodged in her memory. This could be a blessing or a curse but is key to the thrilling adventure that then unfolds.

What an opening this is! We are instantly part of Paris, the sights, the sounds, the smells and the feel of the city are conveyed superbly in the writing and with no preamble we have already met our wonderful lead character and the villain who will together dominate the book. Piaf soon discovers that everyone on Paris has forgotten the entire last year including the disappearance of several gifted children. Piaf and her twin brother Luc are quickly drawn into a dangerous journey through the streets of the city and then into the depths of the underground tunnels, the Catacombs, in an effort to defeat the memory thief and find the lost children.

The exploration of memory is fascinating as we watch the twins, the girl with the ability to remember everything and the boy who has lost his memories of all that has gone before. Eve McDonnell was inspired by her research into the phenomenon known as hypothymesia, an extremely rare condition where people are able to relive every life event in great detail. Piaf copes with this by distraction techniques such as fidgeting and this is incorporated into the story realistically. She is a wonderful character carrying the responsibility she bears with a strength and determination that belies her tiny size. As the story progresses she grows in confidence and is a thoughtful role model for children in many ways.

The adventure is thrilling with moments of drama and tension and the writing intensifies the experience. As Piaf and Luc crawl through dark tunnels the reader feels the sense of claustrophobia and fear of the unknown alongside the children. I particularly liked the authentic ‘French feel’ created by the author. The French words used occasionally throughout, the dual language chapter headings and the locations plus of course the references to food all create a realistic sense of place. The historic references together with the interesting afterword by the author provide a background to the story that many children will learn from.

The plot weaves its way through the underground tunnels, including some distinctive characters along the way such as Madame Legrand and Bertie Pufont. The bond between brother and sister, Piaf and Luc is touching in its intensity despite the difficulties caused by Luc’s loss of memory and these two become characters we care about. There are times when an enthralling adventure can culminate in a too speedy, neat or predictable ending but Eve Mc Donnell provides a thoughtful and satisfying conclusion.

It is impossible to write a review of this dramatic and intense adventure without mentioning the wonderful, atmospheric double page illustrations by Ewa Beniak-Haremska as they so perfectly fit the story. The striking cover by Holly Ovenden completes an excellent package.

The Chestnut Roaster was published by Everything With Words on 27th October and I should like to thank Mikka Haugaard for my review copy.

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6 Responses to The Chestnut Roaster by Eve McDonnell illustrations by Ewa Beniak- Haremska

  1. This sounds SO unique!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Having read your review I feel certain that I will love this book, thank you Anne ☺️

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Reading Matters – children’s book news | Library Lady

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