The 20 Books of Summer Reading Challenge was created and is hosted by Cathy at 746 Books. You can find my full TBR here, and keep reading for my spoiler-free thoughts on Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan.
Please note: I have listed content warnings for the book, but I also need to point out that the synopsis—which I have typed out below—mentions suicide, so please read on with caution (or not at all) if that subject is triggering to you.
Content Warning: Suicide [a main and initial event], murder of adults and a child, physical violence, blood and gore, domestic abuse, infidelity, child neglect/abandonment.
Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore
- 326 pages
Lydia Smith lives her life hiding in plain sight. A clerk at the Bright Ideas bookstore, she leads a meticulously ordered existence among her beloved books, eccentric colleagues, and the BookFrogs—the lost and lonely regulars who spend every day browsing the overwhelmed stacks.
But when a young BookFrog, Joey Molina, hangs himself in one of the upper rooms of the store, Lydia’s life comes unglued. Inside one of Joey’s pockets is a photograph of Lydia as a little girl. And when she flips through some of 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. The more she puzzles over them, the more they seem to contain a hidden message for her about his final days. What did Joey know? And what does it have to do with Lydia?
Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore is a fiendishly clever bookstore mystery that will keep you guessing until the very last page, where the truth, in the end, may be stranger than fiction.
This story is shocking from the very beginning, and Matthew Sullivan didn’t really lessen the shock factor as more of the plot developed. As enticing as the plot is, however, I found myself to be a bit disappointed with the bookstore aspect.
But first, the things I was impressed by.
The pacing of each scene kept me flipping pages to get further into the mystery and closer to the truth of what led up to Joey’s suicide, and the numerous other happenings dragged up from protagonist Lydia’s past. For a mystery and subtle thriller, Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore delivered heavy anticipation, plot twists, and an ending that was satisfying but not too neatly wrapped up. I did not guess the ending even as more clues and trails were revealed, but even so, the conclusion did not feel totally out of left field—it shocked me but was not completely unbelievable.
There were a few other bookstore employees, besides Lydia, who were briefly introduced, and fortunately they added wholesome elements to the story and to Lydia’s life. They offered moments of connection, support, and whatever else Lydia needed as she tried to work out the mystery at hand, and Matthew Sullivan did a great job making each of them stand out while also making them realistic people. I do wish we could have had more time with these side characters, which brings me to my major qualm with the book.
Give me more about the bookstore! Its symbolism (provides a place of refuge) and employees (dozens are mentioned but we only meet three or four) were incorporated into the general plot, but I wanted the bookstore to be the majority of the setting, and it just wasn’t. It’s certainly the setting for the first major event of the book, but it just didn’t appear enough later on to satisfy me. Most of the story and mystery is about a tragedy in Lydia’s past, and how it just so happens to relate to her and Joey in the present; it sort of feels like the author had an idea for a murder mystery type of story, but needed a catalyst (Joey’s death) and big surprise ending for that story. In other words, while not feeling totally disjointed, the pieces of the plot feel a little forced together and not completely as one entity.
So while I would recommend this for fans of book-related mysteries, murder mysteries, and subtle thrillers, just keep in mind that the bookstore element is somewhat fleeting.