Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore: A Novel

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore: A Novel

by Matthew Sullivan

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Overview

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore: A Novel by Matthew Sullivan

When a bookshop patron commits suicide, his favorite store clerk must unravel the puzzle he left behind in this “intriguingly dark, twisty” (Kirkus Reviews) debut novel from an award-winning short story writer.

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. “Both charming and challenging” (Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review), Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore is a “multi-generational tale of abandonment, desperation, and betrayal…inventive and intricately plotted” (Publishers Weekly, starred review).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781501116858
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: 01/09/2018
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 24,452
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(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.

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.

Introduction

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.
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.
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.
LinNC 15 days 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 3 months ago
ksnapier475 7 months 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.