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The Chestnut Roasters by Eve McDonnell - Review & Blog Post

Updated: Apr 10, 2023

Cover artwork by Holly Ovenden

Interior illustrations by Ewa Beniak-Haremska

This remarkable tale of chestnuts, catacombs, courage and an unbreakable bond between siblings is as unforgettable as the power of Piaf's extraordinary mind. A mesmerising, evocative, and highly original historical mystery, The Chestnut Roaster will dazzle and delight readers both young and old.

It's 1888 and Paris is in the height of its "Beautiful Age", its Belle Époque. The city is abuzz with anticipation and prospect as the arrival of the spectacular world fair, the Exposition Universelle, creeps ever closer, like the rising of the great Eiffel Tower overhead. The disappearance of Rapiditus' Cabinet of Oils and several gifted children alongside it has seemingly floated away, like the sweet scent of warm chestnuts rising from little Piaf Durand's roaster on her corner on Rue du Dragon. When she discovers that everyone has forgotten the entire last year, 1887, Piaf and her twin brother Luc embark on a dangerous journey into the deadly depths of Paris’s underground twin, the Catacombs, to capture the memory thief and find the lost children, before everyone's memories are lost forever...

This is definitely one book I won't be forgetting anytime soon! Eve's melding of acute historical detail and exquisite characterisation with a thrilling page-turning mystery is truly masterful. Like the great imaginations of Emma Carroll and A.M. Howell, Eve McDonnell writes historical fiction at its very best - a true literary extraordinaire.

Ç'est magnifique! Remarquable! 5 étoiles!

Read on for an unmissable insight into Eve's fearless protagonists, Piaf and Luc...


Exploring The Chestnut Roaster Characters

A Twin-Thing

‘There was a silence between Piaf and Luc, a silence Madame’s fraught whispers to Maman could not even penetrate. Piaf let him own it – she guessed he was figuring out how it must feel to be her, and she spent the moment trying to imagine how it felt to be him. Memory-full and memory-less, they were poles apart, yet together, sitting cross-legged on Luc’s bed.’

Piaf roasts chestnuts on her corner at Rue du Dragon – Illustration by Ewa Beniak-Haremsk

Piaf: Anyone who knows me knows that I have a passion for birds, so when a small and dishevelled chestnut roaster who was unable to sit still appeared in my mind, she was always going to be named after a bird! ‘Piaf’ means ‘little sparrow’ and little sparrows are those somewhat non-descript, chirping birds we often overlook at our feeders or in our garden hedges. Likewise, Piaf is often overlooked by passers-by at her chestnut roaster – ignored for her tiny size or shunned for her persistent need to fidget and flutter. Though undiagnosed in her time, Piaf is neurodiverse with symptoms of ADHD, her struggles compounded by a condition known as ‘hyperthymesia’ – the ability to remember her entire life’s events in brilliant detail. Her twin brother Luc describes this ability as a superpower, but to Piaf it is a life-long and social anxiety-building burden. Memories badger her persistently and she uses a form of stimming in the form of fidgeting, bird-like fluttering and sometimes counting out loud in an often-failed attempt to keep herself focused and attentive. Piaf’s encounters at her roaster have reduced her confidence to a seed and there she remains in the shadow of her brother Luc where she feels safe. During Piaf’s journey through the tale of The Chestnut Roaster she gains confidence by discovering that what matters is inside, and inside she is a giant.

From the sinkhole to the asylum, Luc patiently awaits the return of his memories – Illustration by Ewa Beniak-Haremska

Luc: In complete contrast to Piaf’s lack of confidence and social anxiety, her twin brother Luc is a natural leader and successful chatter-upper at their roaster. He is also far taller than Piaf, and this alone acts as a magnet for anyone they encounter, ensuring little Piaf can remain hidden beneath his wing. But things are about to change. A terrible accident (or incident!) has left Luc with the inability to recall memories and each day when he awakes, he must start from scratch, using a list of twenty things to reintroduce himself to his life. Piaf likens him to finding a chestnut burr, cracking it open and finding nothing inside. But it is not all memories that are gone – he has the ability to recall anything learned such as the lyrics to a song or one of his own poems. Luckily, Luc is a bookworm and can draw on an encyclopaedia of memorised facts to help muddle his way through his days. It begs the question – how much of who we are is formed by our precious life experiences and our ability to remember them? Piaf clings desperately onto still-present snippets of her dear brother’s personality, from his need to correct people if they are wrong, delighting in his remembered poetry, and she empathises with his ongoing struggle with a sensory disorder. Though they might be different in so many ways, Piaf and Luc have shared every day of their lives, and they have a connection far, far deeper than memories alone – it’s a twin-thing, my own twins tell me, and I know precisely what they mean.

Eve McDonnell

The Chestnut Roaster is published by Everything With Words and out now.

Eve McDonnell is a children's book writer and artist based in Wexford, Ireland. When her head is not stuck in a middle-grade story, she enjoys helping out at workshops and painting everything from rather grown-up pieces to children's murals. Her debut, Elsetime, won the the Wells Festival of Literature Children's Book Award and was shortlisted for the Awesome Book Award 2022.

A big thank you to Mikka at Everything With Words for sending me a copy of The Chestnut Roaster, and for inviting me to be part of the blog tour.


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