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Mystery Novels That Mysteriously Found Me

"Midnight At The Bright Ideas Bookstore" by Matthew Sullivan and "Gwendy's Button Box" by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar

Myra here.

So these books managed to ‘mysteriously’ find me earlier this year, I had neither intentions nor plans of reading them, but found me they did. I thought that it would be good to share my thoughts about them as they do fit our current reading theme to a T.

Midnight At The Bright Ideas Bookstore

Written by: Matthew J. Sullivan
Published by: Scribner (2017)
ISBN: 1501116843 (ISBN13: 9781501116841) Literary Award: Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Debut Goodreads Author (2017). Book was borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

This book was a #Litsybuddyread choice for march. While there is an entire schedule created for the online discussions, with only a few chapters per week, I finished reading it in two days, over one weekend.

“Joey loved it here… This place gave him something sacred. Gave his mind some quiet. This was his Thanksgiving table. His couch-cushion fort. He could get lost in here like nowhere else on earth.

It was a fast-paced, plot-driven novel whose main strength for me lies in the fact that the setting is in a book store. A young and tortured regular-bookstore-patron named Joey Molina committed suicide in the Bright Ideas Bookstore. He left a few strange clues to his favourite store clerk, Lydia Smith, who also happens to be running away from her own past – one that involves the grisly and brutal murder of her best friend and her entire family when she was a young child, and her being the sole survivor of this attack. Apart from experiencing survivor’s guilt, she also had a falling-out with her own father whom she blamed somewhat for everything else that transpired as a consequence of this murder, including their moving town.

While this book ticks most of the boxes for me as to what constitutes a good novel, especially given the bibliophilia embedded into the entire narrative, and a few inside information provided about booksellers in general – I felt there was something missing that removed me from totally immersing myself into what was going on. I couldn’t sympathize with the main character, Lydia, who seemed shallow and easily swayed by life’s circumstances, without a real sense of agency.

While the puzzles and the constant second-guessing was fun, and Joey’s cryptic messages somewhat unique, I found the dialogue to be expositional rather than authentic, a way for the author to minutely explain what was going on, instead of allowing the events to unfold organically, or the reader to arrive at those conclusions themselves. I also liked second-guessing myself as to who the real murderer is (Hammerman) and how it related to the present suicide of Joey – naturally it had to be the coloured person (spoiler alert), which also somewhat exasperated me. I understand and totally get that it may simply have been where the narrative has taken the author, but there was just this off-putting taste in my mouth afterwards, as I felt that most of the characters seemed like caricatures, rather than fully-fleshed-out human beings. Regardless, it was a relatively enjoyable way to spend a weekend.

Gwendy’s Button Box

Written by: Stephen King and Richard Chizmar
Published by: Cemetery Dance Publications (2017)
ISBN: 1587676109 (ISBN13: 9781587676109). Book was borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

this is a novel that i borrowed from the library for the sole reason that i was taken by the book cover and the fact that it was put on prominent display at the shelves. I only found out that it was written by Stephen King (and Richard Chizmar) when I got home and arranged all my book loot in my shelves.

“Light green: Asia. Dark green: Africa. Orange: Europe. Yellow: Australia. Blue: North America. Violet: South America.

Imagine that there is this magical button box that dispenses magical chocolates that make you feel absolutely nourished as it satisfies all your cravings, vintage coins that are worth more than enough to send you through college, and several more buttons that has the power to destroy each of the continent it represents, another button that provides you with anything you want, absolutely anything, and another black button that stands for “everything.. the whole shebang.. the big kahuna.”

This book has made effective use of foreshadowing throughout. From the moment that Gwendy received the button box from the mysterious stranger who seemed to know absolutely everything about her life, things have turned for the better across all aspects of her life: from her weight that she is struggling with, her academics which now seemed effortless for her, her parents who magically found love again in each other’s arms. And everything that stands in her path to good fortune simply manages to fall into disgrace or some kind of unexplained bad luck of sorts. Naturally, the rational part of me is waiting for some kind of payback. I know that all these good things happening to Gwendy are simply too good to be true, regardless of how many years have passed since her receiving the strange button box.

The question now is whether she has earned all the good things happening to her because of her talent, hard work, skills – or is it because of the button box? And what if she is tempted for some reason to push one button – what then will happen to South America, or Europe? Should one person have this kind of power? But then again, a few people in positions of influence do have this metaphorical button box.

I like how this book made me brace for bad events that I thought would have been inevitable given the continuous stroke of good fortune, and more importantly, how it made me think of the button box conundrum. If I were given such a box for some unfathomable reason or another, would I be a good custodian to this? How would I take on the responsibility? Would I be tempted to abuse/misuse its apparent power? This was a thoroughly enjoyable read which again, made me think, that perhaps Stephen King is mellowing out considerably in his old age (and waxing existential, too!.

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Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

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