*ARC from Capstone via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review
Suitcase of Stars is a fantastic story for children and young adult, and well, those young at heart and lovers of magical stories without expecting an element of romance. There's a sort of 'coming of age' element on the part of Finley McPhee and his sudden attraction to a girl, but the story revolves around the introduction of the Enchanted Emporium in this seemingly quiet village. The allusion to romance or at least young love is there, but is not a focus or seriously explored in the story, which I actually appreciated. Due to a series of several events, Finley discovers the new neighbors, the Lily family, and before he knows it, he is drawn into their web of secrets, where magic and enviable curios abound.
At the end of each chapter are beautiful illustrations by Iacopo Bruno. Mostly, the illustrations are about the magical artefacts sold or used by the Lily family, or mentioned by Aiby in her discussions with Finley. My experience with Suitcase of Stars makes me wish every magic/fantasy book will have illustrations, because they seriously helped in my imagination and getting involved in the story! I am seriously considering asking my friend in the United States to send me this as a gift even though I read it already.
I loved the two main characters, Aiby and Finley, even though I am not able to relate to their experiences. Aiby Lily is one bad-ass teen! She's beautiful, weird in her own way, and competent. I like that she's shown as a strong character instead of being dependent or too dramatic. No word was said about her mother, and I hope that's a topic explored in future books. Finley, I think, is younger than Aiby, or maybe Aiby is just mature already. I love how the author managed to show, without being dictating, the character growth of Finley throughout his various experiences and scrapes. Finley has certainly captured my heart as a good young adult hero.
Suitcase of Stars is a different kind of fantasy story in that instead of the plot revolving around wizards or magicians, the fascination is more centered around the magical materials instead, like the dust that makes you forget, or the Dream Weavers' veil that spreads good dreams and makes the people relax (I need that badly!), or the magic carpet of Ali Baba. It was not clear to me whether the Lily family are magicians, or simply humans entrusted with these materials even though they don't have witchcraft magic themselves. There are also several riddles told throughout the book, which I enjoyed being puzzled about.
The title Suitcase of Stars has, unfortunately, nothing to do with the main story. I think that suitcase was mentioned twice, or thrice, but this is one of those instances when the title does not do the story itself justice. I think they should have named it The Enchanted Emporium instead, which is not a title that is passe anyway. Plus, in the book cover, the words 'Enchanted Emporium' stands out more. But these did not detract from my enjoyment of the novel.
One thing that I didn't like about Suitcase of Stars though is that there were loose ends left unanswered in by the end, and not even addressed. Like where did one of their neighbors go? Why can Finley and Meb read the writing on the wall? How can Doug actually answer the riddle? I am hoping there will be more books about the Enchanted Emporium over the next years!
I really recommend this to anyone who reads young adult and enjoys a good fantasy story.
About the Author
P.D. Baccalario was born on March 6, 1974, in Acqui Terme, a small and beautiful town of Piedmont, Italy. While attending law school, he won an award for his novel, The Road Warrior. It was one of the most beautiful days of his entire life. From that moment on, he wrote and published his novels.
About the Illustrator
I once had a very special friend who had everything he could possibly want. You see, ever since we were kids, he owned a magical pencil with two perfectly sharp ends. Whenever my friend wanted something, he drew it and it came to life! Once, he drew a spaceship, and we boarded it and went on a nice little tour around the galaxy. Another time, he drew a sparkling red plane that was very similar to the Red Baron’s, only a little smaller. He piloted us inside a giant volcano that had erupted only an hour earlier. Whenever my friend was tired, he drew a big bed. We dreamed through the night until the morning light shone through the drawn shades. This great friend of mine eventually moved to China…but he left his magic pencil with me!