book review

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew J. Sullivan

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Release Date: June 13, 2017

Lydia Smith lives her life hiding in plain sight. A clerk at the Bright Ideas bookstore, she keeps a meticulously crafted existence among her beloved books, eccentric colleagues, and the BookFrogs—the lost and lonely regulars who spend every day marauding the store’s overwhelmed shelves.

But when Joey McGinty, a young, beguiling BookFrog, kills himself in the bookstore’s back room, Lydia’s life comes unglued. Always Joey’s favorite bookseller, Lydia has been bequeathed his meager worldly possessions. Trinkets and books; the detritus of a lonely, uncared for man. But when Lydia flips through his books she finds them defaced in ways both disturbing and inexplicable. They reveal the psyche of a young man on the verge of an emotional reckoning. And they seem to contain a hidden message. What did Joey know? And what does it have to do with Lydia?

As Lydia untangles the mystery of Joey’s suicide, she unearths a long buried memory from her own violent childhood. Details from that one bloody night begin to circle back. Her distant father returns to the fold, along with an obsessive local cop, and the Hammerman, a murderer who came into Lydia’s life long ago and, as she soon discovers, never completely left.

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*Thank you to the publisher, Scribner, and NetGalley for the copy of this title in exchange for an honest review.

Aside from the title, Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore, it’s cover also caught my attention. A book that takes place at a bookstore? Give it to me! But it is really the blurb that sold it to me. It pretty much sums up half of the story and it sure looks intriguing.

Lydia found the body of Joey hanging in the back room of the Bright Ideas Bookstore. He is one of their regular customers at the shop and she grew fond of him as he is a nice young guy. What puzzles her most about his tragic death is that she found a picture of her in his pocket when she was 10-years-old. A picture of her and her best friends at her 10th birthday that she’d never seen before. How can this guy have a photo of her from 20-years ago? And what is his connection from her dark past that she’s trying so hard if not to forget, then at least hide? What more, Joey left her his few possessions, mostly defaced books with unmatched labels. It turns out that the cut-outs on those books are coded messages from Joey for Lydia to decipher. It doesn’t take long for her to get the drift on how to solve the hidden messages but she still doesn’t understand what Joey is trying to tell her and what does it all have to do with her. But as she discovers the mystery of Joey’s suicide, she realized that she’s also unraveling her dark past. The past that is still haunting her. That one night that’s filled with blood and death. And now, it’s not only that horrific past that’s haunting her, her estranged dad is trying to get in the picture again. Add to that her childhood best friend, the obsessive detective that’s out to get her dad, and with them, Lydia’s worst nightmare, the Hammerman.

What can I say? Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore is definitely an engaging read. An impressive debut which offers its readers a few mysteries to solve, some suspense and a bit of family drama as well. The mystery of Joey’s death alone is one thing that will keep you turning the pages. Add the possible connection of Lydia’s horrific past and you are in for an engrossing book journey. Lydia has one of the most coveted jobs for book lovers and it made me instantly like her. But her horrendous past is not something anyone would wish for. Much more for a 10-year old girl. She survived the murder of her friend, Carol and her parents, by hiding under the sink. The way that it was told in the perspective of a little girl adds more horror to the already terrible situation. It is a risk the author take and he succeeded in delivering it so well. I particularly like the bits about Joey’s coded messages. They are brilliant, though I was hoping for a lot more than just a few snippets. I even thought it held the answers to all the questions surrounding the story. It’s nice, too, that guessing as to who is the killer is a lot harder than I first thought since I am way off with my guess.

The characters are interesting and I like quite a few of them. Lydia is okay, but I don’t like her as much as I first started reading than when I finished. Her traumatic experience alone is enough for me to feel a deep sympathy towards her. She may have done a few things that baffled me but I still think she did well as the main character. Considering what happened in her childhood, she turned up okay. I’m saying this because it wasn’t mentioned that she undergo some therapy for what she’s experienced which I think should be an option at her age. Just my thoughts. She has a job that she likes and she has a long-term relationship with a good guy. And aside from keeping her past from him, everything is well. So, I don’t get how things ended the way it did between the two of them. I am completely disappointed because I like David, Lydia’s boyfriend, and there’s not much of him in the book. I also find Lydia’s reason for how things turned out rather unacceptable. Another character that interests me is Joey. It is very much as Joey’s story as much as Lydia’s. He’s the perfect example of “Don’t judge the book by its cover”, or for Joey’s situation, his past. He is a mystery to everyone but as his short life story slowly unfolds, it reveals a heartbreaking story of a young man just wanting to be part of a family.

The plot is original, but there are just some instances that things look so convenient as far as coincidence goes. There’s a certain issue that’s unclear to me and it is the reason as to why Lydia and her dad are not in good terms. It was built in the beginning as if there’s something big happened between father and daughter that made them stop talking to each other. But aside from Lydia running away and deciding not to speak to her father again, there’s no reason about why she did such act that was mentioned. And it made me like Lydia less. Also, I don’t appreciate the way that book lovers were portrayed in this book, especially the regular customers of the bookstore and the library-goers. In spite of that, it doesn’t make the story less compelling.

Overall, I can say with certainty that Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore is worth your time. A well-written mystery that will grab your attention and will keep you turning pages after pages until you hit the end.

RATING: 4/5

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(*Photos and synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

Purchase it on Amazon.com: Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore

Purchase it on Amazon.co.uk: Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore

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5 thoughts on “Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew J. Sullivan

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