Review: The Chestnut Roaster by Eve McDonnell

Written by Eve McDonnell
Cover illustration by Holly Ovenden
Internal Illustrations by Ewa Beniak-Haremska
Published by Everything with Words

The Chestnut Roaster is an unforgettable, mesmerising historical fantasy which swept me into late 19th century Paris and into a gripping, dangerous and exciting adventure that completely captivated me.

Twelve-year-old Piaf was born on All Fools Day with a rare ability, both a gift and a burden:  she can remember everything since the day she was born by unlocking memory boxes in her brain.  She remembers that her twin brother Luc is ill, suffering from memory loss, and has been in a Parisian hospital for over a year.  She remembers that the man who tries to snatch her from her chestnut roaster stall could not possibly be the relative he claims to be.  And she remembers the year, 1887, that everyone else in Paris has forgotten …

Could this man be the child snatcher who has taken 20 gifted children over the past year, children whose disappearances seem to have been forgotten?  When this dangerous, determined villain sets his sights on Piaf and her ability, she finds herself plunged into the depths of Paris’s underground twin, the Catacombs, with her brother Luc.  Will the twins be able to foil the memory thief’s plans before he takes years of memories from Parisian citizens?  Will they discover the whereabouts of the taken children and reunite them with their families?  And could the disappearance of these gifted children be linked to the missing memories?

What an absolutely incredible adventure:  atmospheric, dark, thrilling and utterly unputdownable.  Fast-paced, short chapters kept me turning the pages, telling myself ‘just one more chapter’ but that was never enough.  I loved being taken on a journey through the Parisian streets and through the underground catacombs which felt so real, exploding with sights, sounds and smells – and a few ‘jumpy’ moments!  I was on the edge of my seat as I didn’t quite know who the twins could trust which kept me on tenterhooks as did the incredible twists and revelations, one in particular which left me stunned, but which was just perfect!  An adventure as intricate and magical as the gorgeous leaf-skeleton map that the twins follow on their journey against time through the Parisian underground …

Piaf is the most wonderful young girl who I absolutely adored.  Her name means ‘sparrow’ which suits her perfectly; she is tiny and goes almost unnoticed; and, she finds it impossible to keep still, constantly fidgeting.  On the inside, she is a giant, filled with courage, determination and empathy – even if she doesn’t always see this herself! Piaf sees her ability as a burden whereas her brother, Luc sees it as a gift.  He may have no memory of events and people beyond the current day, but he retains his knowledge of books and poetry and is a font of knowledge. The bond between the siblings is so gorgeous, offering comfort and support, and working as a team when faced with danger and fear and the need to help others.

The double-page illustrations by Ewa Beniak-Haremska are absolutely stunning, and capture the mystery and intricacy of this superb story perfectly.  I really enjoyed reading the information about the illustrations at the end of the story which made me take a further look. 

A breath-taking, magical adventure:  a story of loss, survival, and the strength of friendship, family and self-belief.  This is a story that firmly deserves to be warming readers’ hearts and minds on a cold autumnal evening, and is one I can highly recommend for readers of 9+.  C’est inoubliable!

Thank you so much to Mikka at Everything With Words for providing me with an early copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

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