Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore

by Matthew Sullivan


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781501116841
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: 06/13/2017
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 504,694
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Matthew Sullivan received his MFA from the University of Idaho and has been a resident writer at Yaddo, Centrum, and the Vermont Studio Center. His short stories have been awarded the Robert Olen Butler Fiction Prize and the Florida Review Editor’s Prize for Fiction and have been published in many journals, including The Chattahoochee Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Fugue, Evansville Review, and 580-Split. In addition to working for years at Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver and at Brookline Booksmith in Boston, he currently teaches writing, literature, and film at Big Bend Community College in the high desert of Washington State. The author of Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore, he is married to a librarian and has two children.

Read an Excerpt

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore

  • Lydia heard the distant flap of paper wings as the first book fell from its shelf. She glanced up from the register, head tilted, and imagined that a sparrow had flown through an open window again and was circling the store’s airy upper floors, trying to find its way out.

    A few seconds later another book fell. This time it thudded more than flapped, and she was sure it wasn’t a bird.

    It was just past midnight, the bookstore was closing, and the final customers were checking out. Lydia was alone at the register, scanning a stack of paperback parenting books being bought by a teenage girl with pitted cheeks and peeling lips. The girl paid in cash and Lydia smiled at her but didn’t say anything, didn’t ask what the girl was doing alone at a bookstore this late on a Friday night, didn’t ask when she was due. When the girl got her change, she met Lydia’s eyes for a moment, then rushed out without any bookmarks.

    Another book fell, definitely somewhere upstairs.

    One of Lydia’s comrades, a balding guy named Ernest who walked like a Muppet but always looked sad, was standing by the front door, guiding the night’s final customers into Lower Downtown.

    “Are you hearing that?” Lydia said from across the store, but her voice was too quiet and anyway Ernest was occupied. She watched him unlock the door he’d just locked to let in a clubbing couple who looked drunk.

    “They need to pee,” Ernest said, shrugging in Lydia’s direction.

    Outside, a few scruffy BookFrogs lingered on the flagstone sidewalk, zipping up backpacks and duffels, drinking from gallon jugs of water they’d refilled in the bathroom. One had a pulp crime paperback crammed in his back pocket. Another had a pencil on a string tied to his belt loop. They stood together but none of them spoke, and one by one they slumped separately into the city, off to sleep in a run-down basement in Capitol Hill, or on a bench in Union Station, or in the sticky cold of Denver’s alleys.

    Lydia heard another faint flapping. Definitely a falling book, followed by a few more in rapid succession: flap-flap-flap. The store was otherwise quiet.

    “Upstairs empty?” she said to Ernest.

    “Just Joey,” Ernest said, but his eyes were fixed on the corner of zines and pamphlets that flanked the bathrooms where the drunk couple had just disappeared. “Do you think they’re screwing in there?”

    “He knows we’re closed?”

    “Joey?” he said. “You never know what Joey knows. He asked after you earlier, by the way. It may have been the longest conversation we’ve ever had. ‘Seen Lydia?’ I was touched.”

    Most days Lydia made a point of tracking Joey down wherever he’d settled into the store—a corner table in the coffee shop, or the former church pew in the Spirituality section, or even under the Story Tree in Kids—to see what he was reading and how he was feeling and whether any odd jobs had come his way. She had a soft spot for the guy. But tonight she’d gotten caught in the store’s after-dinner rush and never tracked him down.

    “Lyle is with him, right?” Lydia said. Though decades apart in age, Joey and Lyle were all but inseparable, like two halves of one smart and awkward beast.

    “No Lyle. Not tonight. Last I saw, Joey was all alone in History. He had masking tape on his fingers.”

    “On his fingers?”

    “I think he must’ve cut himself or burned himself. Made bandages with Kleenex and tape.” He looked at his watch. “He’s not a crackhead, is he? They’re always burning fingers.”

    Lydia heard another fluttering book. The store occupied three cavernous floors, and when it was quiet like this, sound traveled between them as if through an atrium. She imagined Joey all alone lobbing books up there, some kind of bibliomancy or I Ching toss. She’d be the one to stay late and reshelve them.

    “Count the drawer for me?”

    “Goddamned couple,” Ernest said, coming around to the register without unpeeling his eyes from the bathrooms. “They’ve gotta be screwing in there.”

    Lydia crossed the store’s gritty floors and headed up the wide, tiered staircase that reached through the building like a fattened spine. Ernest had gone through earlier and turned off most of the overhead lights upstairs, so she felt as if she were climbing into an attic.


    The second floor was quiet, shelf upon shelf of books standing still. She continued to the third.


    Joey was the youngest of the BookFrogs, and by far Lydia’s favorite. This wouldn’t be the first time that she or one of her bookselling comrades had done a final sweep at closing and found Joey knocking books off the shelves, searching for a title that may or may not have actually existed. His glossy hair would be draped over his eyes, and he’d be wearing black jeans and a black knit sweater with the collar just low enough to see the top of his tattooed chest. The wooden floors around his feet would be spread with books about subjects as far-reaching as his thoughts: Sasquatch sightings and the Federal Reserve, Masonic rites and chaos theory. He was a shattered young man, Lydia often thought, haunted but harmless—a dust bunny blowing through the corners of the store.

    She liked having him around.


    The third floor was dim and peaceful. Lydia stepped into a familiar warren of tall wooden shelves and followed their angles and branches into different alcoves and sections, each holding a chair or a couch, a table or a bench: Psychology, Self-Help, Religion, Travel, History.

    Something squeaked.

    “Last call, Joey.”

    When she stepped into the Western History alcove, she could feel her eyes trying to shut out what she was seeing: Joey, hovering in the air, swinging like a pendulum. A long ratcheted strap was threaded over a ceiling beam and looped around his neck. Lydia’s body sprung with terror, but instead of running away she was suddenly running toward him, toward Joey, and hugging his lanky legs and trying to hoist him up. She heard someone’s scream curdle through the store and realized it was her own.

    Lydia’s cheek pressed into Joey’s thigh and his jeans were warm with urine. A lump in his pocket smelled of chocolate and she assumed it was a knot of melted Kisses, swiped from the bowl on the coffee shop counter. His hands were clenched into quiet fists and she could see the masking-tape bandages on three or four of his fingertips, but she wouldn’t look up again at the popped purple sockets of his eyes, nor the foamy saliva rolling down his chin, nor the blue swelling of his lips.

    She could see the cemetery of books that had flapped to the floor as Joey had climbed the shelves, and the others he’d shoved aside to create footholds as he threaded the strap through the ceiling, and still others that had dropped as he’d tried to kick his feet back to stop himself from dying. By now she’d locked her hands together on the far side of his thighs and was trying to lift him up, but her sneakers kept slipping on the wooden floor, and each time she slipped the ratcheted strap cinched tighter around his neck. She must have stopped screaming because a ringing silence suddenly swallowed everything when she saw, a few inches from her face, poking up from Joey’s front pocket, a folded photograph of her.


    As a child.

  • Reading Group Guide

    This reading group guide for Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

    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 Molina, a young, beguiling BookFrog, kills himself in the bookstore’s upper 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.

    Topics & Questions for Discussion

    1. While talking with Raj, Lydia reminisces about her relationship with Gas ‘n Donuts: “but her nostalgia for the place had never been strong enough to outweigh her dread of dredging up the past” (138). How is Lydia’s relationship with the past presented, and how do you see it evolve over the course of the novel?

    2. What were your initial impressions of the characters, specifically Lydia’s father? How did these impressions change over the course of the novel?

    3. As Lydia assess her own muddied memories of the Hammerman, she visits Moberg, who has long suspected that Lydia’s father was the murderer. Hurting and suspicious, Lydia also seems to believe that her father might be behind the murders. Did you find yourself believing that her father might be guilty? At what point did you realize it was Raj’s father who had committed the murders?

    4. Sullivan weaves a tight web of a story with characters whose lives are significantly intertwined yet all of these characters feel acute loneliness and isolation. Explore these themes with your group. What other themes do you see at work?

    5. Mrs. Patel feels immense guilt about the O’Toole murders, believing that “their blood was on [her] hands” (302). Once she learns of Joey’s suicide, she experiences further emotional upheaval. Take a moment to think about the “justice” of Mrs. Patel’s final act. Did it take you by surprise? How did it resonate with you?

    6. Lydia lives her life hiding in plain sight among books; discuss with your group this aspect of her character along with the one of the quotes Sullivan selected for the epigraph:

    “All words are masks, and the lovelier they are, the more they are meant to conceal”

    —Steven Millhauser, “August Eschenburg”

    7. Lydia’s familiarity with books and the bookstore setting are crucial to the plot of the novel. Discuss with your group the significance of Joey’s cutouts in books as a means of communication. Contemplate what metaphorical gesture Sullivan might be making.

    8. Using the quote below as a starting point, discuss Lydia’s drive to uncover the mystery. How do your own philosophical ideals align with these philosophies?

    “But then not having answers had always been the point: the point of her childhood, the product of her hours in the library, the sum of [her father’s] philosophy when she was a little girl. You leave yourself open to answers, he’d always taught her. You keep turning pages, you finish chapters, you find the next book. You seek and you seek and you seek, and no matter how tough things become, you never settle” (208).

    9. Despite her long-term relationship with David, Lydia is still “fully aware of the one thing she could never reveal: her night with the Hammerman” (137). Once Lydia discovers that David has been communicating with her father, and he knows about the night of the murders she feels betrayed (213). Did you imagine that Lydia and David would ever recover from the secrecy? What values do you place on a relationship?

    10. Sullivan ends the novel with Raj and Lydia happening upon a television show about the O’Toole murders and “Little Lydia,” ending the novel with this line:

    “And though [Lydia] wanted to close her eyes and feel the promise of this moment, she couldn’t help but look beyond his shoulder, hoping to see for one last time the girl he’d just erased from the screen.”

    Where do you think Sullivan leaves us with Lydia and her relationship to the murders and to herself?

    Enhance Your Book Club

    1. Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore is filled with references to books of all kinds. Read an excerpt from one of the many books mentioned in the novel. Consider reading simultaneously the books that Joey pairs together such as The Crying of Lot 49 and Wise Blood or Resuscitation of a Hanged Man and Alice in Wonderland.

    2. The description of the Bright Ideas Bookstore was based on Sullivan’s own experience working at the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver, Colorado. Look up images of the interior of the bookstore. Does the description of the wooden rafters and staircases remind you of the novel?

    3. Read other book-related mysteries like Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan and Booked to Die by John Dunning. How do they compare?

    Customer Reviews

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    Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Must read for anyone who likes a dark mystery. Well written and great character development. Loved this one!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Saw review of book in the New York Times book review. Well written and holds your attention. A young woman works at a bookstore and befriends a young man who commits suicide at the bookstore . It leads to the woman unraveling a mystery that is connected to her from when she was a little girl. Lots of twists and turns. It is not until the end that the mystery is solved. If you like mysteries you should read the book. Read it in one day.
    cloggiedownunder More than 1 year ago
    Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore is the first novel by American bookseller, teacher and author, Matthew Sullivan. Midnight is closing time at the Bright Ideas Bookstore in Lower Downtown Denver, and Lydia Smith is rounding up the stragglers. She knows one of their regulars, Joey is upstairs, but when she reaches the top floor, having heard books thumping onto the floor, she finds him hanging by the neck from a ceiling beam. Poking out of his jeans pocket is a photograph of Lydia with her best friends on her tenth birthday, and Joey’s fingertips are all cuts covered in tape. Joey’s suicide upsets the hard-won equilibrium of Lydia’s life. She is horrified to realise she appears in a newspaper photograph of the scene; people from a past she has tried to forget begin to make contact, unwelcome contact. Joey left no suicide note but he has, it seems from a Post-it note retrieved from his landlady’s bra, chosen Lydia as the recipient of his worldly goods. Which include a black wool suit, pressed white shirt and red tie, a metal trash can holding the charred remains of Joey’s papers, and a crate of strangely mutilated books. Is there a message in there for Lydia? If so, why her? And how did Joey come by the photo of her? Sullivan gives the reader a story told over two time periods: present day and twenty years earlier. Much of it is told from Lydia’s perspective, but her father, Tomas carries part of the narrative. It’s a cleverly constructed story. There’s a twenty-year-old cold case in there, an unsolved and violent triple murder and, while a very astute reader may deduce the identity and motive of The Hammerman early on, for most readers the who and why will come clear only in the last eighty pages. Sullivan populates his novel with quirky characters: bookstore customers and staff, friends, lovers, family, they are appealing for all their flaws and foibles. The bookstore and the library are almost characters in themselves, and the titles in Joey’s crate of books are diverse and definitely a bit eccentric. This is a tale with action and excitement, with humour and heartache, with a bit of lust and a lot of love. It is a brilliant debut novel and it will be interesting to see what this talented author does next.
    LinNC 11 months ago
    I'm not typically a mystery reader, but I couldn't resist a book about a bookstore! The title and the cover grabbed me! And I wasn't disappointed. Good story written in a conversational style. Loved it!
    FrancescaFB More than 1 year ago
    ksnapier475 More than 1 year ago
    Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore: A Novel by [Sullivan, Matthew]I was given this book by NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. This book had many factors in its favor before I even opened the cover. First of all, it has books and a bookstore in it and it is a murder mystery. Lydia Smith does not like the spotlight. A clerk at The Bright Ideas bookstore, she knows many of the patrons like she does her books. The regulars are called BookFrogs. They spend each day losing themselves in this warm surrounding. Lydia discovers the body of Joey Molina, a BookFrog, and her life is suddenly changed. He left her all of his goods, including his books which are damaged in ways that she cannot understand. Going through his things have brought to light her past. I loved this book. As I was reading it I could see myself inside this bookstore, enjoying every minute of it. As a mystery, I felt myself being pulled in, in a good way, wanting to bring all the thread of the story together. Each character was complex and well written. A very good book. This book can be found on Amazon or Barnes and Noble
    BuriedUnderBooks More than 1 year ago
    As a former bookstore owner, I naturally had to read this and, while I enjoyed it, I also had some reservations. The Bright Ideas Bookstore is a strange sort of place, attracting some rather odd people called the BookFrogs, some of whom seem to spend all their waking hours just hanging out, rarely buying anything. And, since Lydia Smith was Joey Molina's favorite bookseller, you have to wonder why he would commit suicide in the bookstore, leaving his supposed favorite to find him. But so he does and he leaves all his worldly goods to Lydia leading her to puzzle over certain things that pique her curiosity, not only because she thought Joey was a nice young man but also because she seems to have an odd connection to this mystery, a connection that takes her back to a most unpleasant murder-tainted past. The ebook of Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore grabbed my attention despite my initial reluctance and I decided I wanted to try listening to the tale. Narrator Madeleine Maby has a pleasing tone with identifiable vocalizations and I do think the audio edition helped evoke emotions a bit more easily than the written version. Bottomline, while the rampant dysfunction in these characters' lives made me somewhat unsettled, the mystery itself was engaging.
    PaulAllard More than 1 year ago
    Mysteries to solve – quite enjoyable stuff After a childhood event in which she is involved in a multiple murder scene, Lydia Smith now works at a bookstore in Denver where she encounters more tragedy. The bookstore serves as a port of call for various down-and-outs and lost souls. The plot brings both events together as she discovers more about the present victim. With a good deal of characterisation of the main characters, this mystery novel is relatively engaging and interesting although the coincidences are a little hard to believe. It is enjoyable and worth a read. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
    4840318 More than 1 year ago
    I love books about books, so I had very high expectations for Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore. I thought, hurray, a book about a book that takes place in a bookstore. Unfortunately, MatBIB came up short. Bright Ideas really isn’t about books or a book store, to be perfectly honest, and I am not entirely sure that it should even be the name of the book. Yes, the main plot point takes place at Bright Ideas and clues are left in books, but the books and the book store are so secondary to the story that it really doesn’t matter. Now, it may sound like I did not enjoy this book, and that is simply not true. It was an enjoyable read, and I was definitely hooked into the mystery. It is a quick read, and the plot interesting, but I pretty much had a good portion of the story worked long before “the reveal”. In the end, it was just not enough “book-about-books” for me and I was disappointed.
    Myndia More than 1 year ago
    Lydia has a complicated backstory that she doesn’t want anyone to know about. Estranged from her father, and with no other family to speak of, she finds solace in her workplace, the amazing Bright Ideas Bookstore in Denver, Colorado. Not only does she have the job of her dreams, she happily lives with her boyfriend, and has found a family in her coworkers. But when an unexpected tragedy occurs at the bookstore, to one of her favorite customers, she finds an unexpected connection to her past. Unable to let the mystery go unsolved, she pursues the truth, but in so doing, starts to unravel her past, risking exposure to those she’s been hiding it from. My interest in this book is the result of cover lust plus the word “bookstore” in the title. I’m sure that at the time I selected it, I read the blurbs, but by the time I started reading it, I couldn’t have told you anything about the premise – just “I love the cover because books” and it says “bookstore” in the title. But you know what? This time my simple selection process worked out for me. This book rocked hard! Character development was great. I loved Lydia. Loved her workmates. Plot development was superb. Little bits of backstory were eked out in increments just big enough to keep you intrigued without giving too much away. Characters were brought to the forefront at times that made you suspicious, widening the suspect pool. What are their intentions? Why are they here? And there were all these underlying side stories that fed into the primary narrative, enriching it but also blurring the lines a bit. Without a doubt, I can say that I in no way guessed the full story until the very end. I did have a strong suspicion about who the perpetrator was, but I didn’t correctly work out the motive. And the mood of the book was midway between cozy and suspense/thriller. A really solid mystery. Without a doubt, I’ll be reading more by Matthew J. Sullivan. Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I didn't know how highly addicting this book was going to be when I started it. Once I started reading, I didn't stop till I was finished. I wouldn't say that this is a great mystery but it did have a certain way of keeping you entertained. It begins with a death in the first few pages that happens at the bookstore that Lydia works at. You soon find out that there's more to Lydia than you first realize. The young man that dies, leaves clues in books for Lydia to figure out. So the book goes back and forth between the mystery of the young man and something that happened in Lydia's past. Will the two mysteries converge? You'll have to read it to find out! **Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
    357800 More than 1 year ago
    4.5 Stars! More than just your run-of-the-mill whodunit! When I first laid eyes on this book-cover, I knew I had to read it, but the shocker of a beginning that leads to an even bigger....much more intense....shocker along the way turned this DEBUT into a downright page-turner for me. Lydia is a first-rate bookseller and friend to ALL who enter The Bright Ideas Bookstore, but....she has a haunted past....and after the tragedy of a troubled friend, she is left with a saddened heart and baffling mystery to solve. MIDNIGHT AT THE BRIGHT IDEAS BOOKSTORE has a creative, multi-layered storyline with colorful characters and addictive writing, and Matthew J. Sullivan is certainly off to an impressive start!
    SheTreadsSoftly More than 1 year ago
    Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan is a very highly recommended, clever, appealing mystery with a likeable protagonist. Lydia Smith, thirty, is a clerk at the Bright Ideas bookstore. When Joey Molina, one of her so-called "BookFrogs" (regulars who spend most of the day in the store), commits suicide on the third floor of the store just before closing time, she is devastated. She is also surprised to discover that twenty-year-old Joey has a picture from her tenth birthday party in his pocket. Joey also, inexplicably, left her name as the one to contact to inherit his meager worldly possessions. Lydia collects the books he seemed to have left for her, but the books are oddly defaced and may contain some sort of message. As Lydia tries to figure out what was happening in Joey's life that led him to suicide, her traumatic past and buried memories begin to intrude on her thoughts. His suicide brings back terrible visions of her childhood when she suffered a traumatic event that changed her life. When Lydia's picture runs in the paper, it does help her best friend from that time, Raj Patel, reconnect with her, but it also helps a detective find her again. The answers about Joey's death seem to lead Lydia to reexamine her childhood and a twenty-year-old cold case. This is an excellent novel. It is well paced, with an intricate plot that and a perplexing mystery. Along with the plot, Sullivan seamlessly describes and establishes an astute sense of place for all his characters. The characters are wonderfully realized - unconventional and realistic. Lydia tells the present story and what is happening to her today. Flashbacks are told through her father's point-of-view to explain part of what happened in Lydia's childhood, until Lydia remembers what she experienced. It is perfectly presented and flows seamlessly from one part of the story to the next, past and present. I was entranced by and riveted to every page of Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore. Not only is it an excellent, clever novel, it's hard to believe it is a debut novel. I really liked the character of Lydia and her other friends at the bookstore. It's rather nice to have a great summer read with a likeable character where you want everything to turn out for the best. Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Scribner.
    SarahJoint More than 1 year ago
    A book about books! Count me in. Even before I started reading glowing reviews about this story, I was attracted to the cover. It's seemingly tailored to draw a book lover in... and I'm glad it did, because this was well worth the read. I'd recommend it to almost any kind of mystery fan. Final rating: 4.5. With as many mysteries as I read, I often figure them out far before the end. This book kept me guessing. It's cleverly written and hard to put down. I managed it in two sittings, but if life hadn't done that annoying interrupting thing, it would have been one. Lydia is a thirty something with a handsome boyfriend and a job she loves. Sure, it could pay better... but what better place for a bibliophile to hang out than a bookstore? Massive yet still crowded with volumes, Bright Ideas book store is a favorite for many. Lydia has several quirky co-workers, and regulars she affectionately refers to as "bookfrogs". They're simply men looking for a place to be, most of them down on their luck with no place to go. They're mostly quiet and harmless, content to sit and read and don't bother anyone. Her perfect job changes forever when Joey, Lydia's favorite bookfrog, kills himself in the store. She's the one who finds him. He's always intrigued her, a handsome but closed off young guy who was hard to get to know. Turns out that Lydia was his favorite too... because he's left his possessions to her. The few things he owned are filled with beguiling clues as to why he took his own life. Why would he do such a thing? And why did he choose Lydia? Tragedy has a way of opening doors we've closed years ago, and his death is making Lydia think about her own past. Memories she's kept buried for years are clamoring for her attention, and several people she left behind are choosing this time to reappear. Her own past is filled with mystery and secrets, just like Joey's. It might be time to stop pretending they don't exist. Overview kept slightly vague to keep myself from accidentally divulging any spoilers. This book is best enjoyed going in pretty blind. It might manage to surprise you. I received an ARC of this book from Net Galley and Scribner, thank you! My review is honest and unbiased.