Top Ten Tuesday: Books Set in Stores

Hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl

The holiday shopping season is well underway.

As we inch closer to December, stores become busier every single day with shoppers looking for gifts, decorations, seasonal food and beverages, and other items they need to make the holidays memorable.

My thoughts are with the sales associates, clerks, receivers, delivery drivers, merchandisers, and other workers who make all of this possible.

After all, there aren’t any elves out there (so far as we know 😉 ) who are  baking bread, decorating sugar cookies, delivering trucks filled with holiday items, unpacking boxes, displaying merchandise, mopping floors, dusting shelves,  running cash registers, and training new employees among countless other tasks.

People do all of that and so much more. If you’re one of them, I’m cheering you on and hoping every customer you have is a friendly one.

In recognition of all of the hard work happening behind the scenes right now, let’s talk about books that are set in stores.










1. Pawsitively Poisonous (Witch of Edgehill, #1) by Melissa Erin Jackson











2. Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix











3. Paddington Bear and the Christmas Surprise by Michael Bond









4. The Mist by Stephen King











5. A Scone to Die For by H.Y. Hanna










6. The Department Store Ghost by Bill Brown











7. Mallory’s Christmas Wish (The Baby-Sitters Club, #92) by Ann M. Martin











8. Secrets of the Shopping Mall by Richard Peck










9.  Rest Ye Murdered Gentlemen (A Year-Round Christmas Mystery #1) by Vicki Delany











1o. Shaun of the Dead by Chris Ryall


The Scarred Santa by Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy

The Scarred Santa by Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Romance, Inspirational, Holiday, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Once handsome Rafe Sullivan is left scarred, injured, and with PTSD from his Marine Corps service in Afghanistan, returning to civilian life is far from smooth, and the burn scars on his right side are extensive. Although he lives close to family, he lives a solitary life and changes jobs more often than most people change their socks. A temporary job as Santa at the mall is presented, but Rafe first rebels, then relents. His Santa gig affects his PTSD. Then he meets Sheena Dunmore. When she doesn’t run from his scars or issues, she intrigues him. An unmasking by some rowdy children is a test of his stamina and spirit. His greatest fear is fire. Will Rafe conquer the fear so he can move forward into the new life he desires?

Kindness is for everyone.

Some of the most interesting scenes were the ones that showed how difficult the Christmas season can be for certain people. There are many reasons why someone might avoid crowds, be wary of celebrations, or not want to spend time with anyone. It made me happy to see how often the people around Rafe understood his limitations and encouraged him to do whatever he was able to do without pressuring him to do things that were too painful for him physically or emotionally. Their empathy for him was lovely and really embodied what Christmas should be all about.

There were a few plot holes in this novella that were never explained. For example, Rafe explored the idea of becoming a police officer but never fully answered the question of whether or not his PTSD and permanent leg injury would prevent him from pursuing that line of work. There was also a scene at the end involving another character being in terrible danger. It appeared to me that this person could have walked or crawled away from the threat, so I was confused by the fact that they stayed put. I wish these things had been explained better!

With that being said, I did appreciate the author’s realistic descriptions of what daily life as a civilian would be like for someone with Rafe’s extensive injuries. He struggled to do things as ordinary as go to the mall or have dinner at the homes of his relatives due to his many triggers and deep shame about his scars and missing ear. I never stopped rooting for him and hoping that he’d find a way to heal. If the author ever decides to write a sequel, I’d like to know what this character’s life was like five or ten years after the events of this tale.

The Scarred Santa was a heartwarming read.

The Christmassy Cactus by Beth Ferry

The Christmassy Cactus by Beth Ferry
Publisher: HarperCollins
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Holiday, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Tiny Cactus loves Christmas!

But she doesn’t love that her little girl seems to be spending more time with the giant sparkly tree in the living room than with her. Maybe if she were decorated like the Christmas tree, her little girl would notice her again.

And so Tiny Cactus makes a wish—to be special, to be noticed, to be a part of the magic of Christmas. With the support of her friend and some Christmas magic, Tiny Cactus learns that wishes can come true if you believe hard enough.

It’s not really Christmas until everyone is included.

Jealousy comes in many forms, but it generally isn’t talked about in books about this holiday in my experience. I liked the fact that the author acknowledged how celebrations can accidentally leave some people – or cacti – out of the fun and what someone should do if they feel like they’re being left behind. This was a thoughtful exploration of how to deal with a difficult emotion and how to think the best of others even if their actions sting a little.

I was surprised by the fact that no one in this story thought to decorate Tiny Cactus, especially given how much she was loved by her little girl. When I was a child, I put small, light decorations on my family’s house plants at Christmas time. It would have been nice to know why these characters didn’t think of that solution as it was a pretty simple fix for the conflict.

One of the other things I liked about this tale was how realistic it is. Other than the fact that the cactus could talk, everything else was firmly rooted in what could really happen that would make the holiday season more memorable for everyone involved without requiring the intervention of anyone wearing a red suit and passing by in a magical sleigh. This is an uncommon choice for this genre, but it worked really well for the subject matter.

The Christmassy Cactus was heartwarming.

How Does Santa Go Down the Chimney? by Mac Barnett

How Does Santa Go Down the Chimney? by Mac Barnett
Publisher: Candlewick
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Holiday, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

When Santa arrives at a child’s house on Christmas Eve, does he go down the chimney feetfirst or headfirst? What if he gets stuck? What if there’s no chimney? Maybe he slides under the door, as thin as a piece of paper? Or is it possible he pours himself through the faucet? What happens once he’s inside? Whether it’s shape-shifting or impromptu laundry use, Mac Barnett’s iconic talent for earnest deadpan humor and Jon Klassen’s irresistibly funny art honor the timeless question with answers both ridiculous and plausible, mounting in hilarity as the night continues. Channeling a child’s fanciful explanations (and begging for further speculation), this latest collaboration by a New York Times best-selling team will find a secure spot among family holiday traditions.

A little magic is all Santa needs.

The creativity of this tale made me chuckle. I laughed out loud at an early scene showing the reindeer gently lowering Santa into a chimney head first, and the answers to this riddle only grew wilder from there. They reminded me of the way small children think about the world and how they can sometimes expect large things like a person to magically fit into small spaces with a little effort. It was delightful that the authors were able to tap into this portion of childhood and really dig deeply into the wacky side of how Christmas Eve visits from a magical elf might work.

As amused as I was by the premise, I would have liked to see a bit more character and plot development. Almost all of the pages were dedicated to coming up with all sorts of ways that Santa may enter homes even if there’s no chimney to climb down. I kept expecting the narrator to eventually share a solution that seemed more likely than the rest, and I was a little disappointed when that never happened.

With that being said, I did appreciate how the author wrote this to appeal to all sorts of children. Whether a little one wholeheartedly believes in Santa, is skeptical about the idea but still hopes it is true, or doesn’t believe at all, there were scenes in here to amuse a wide variety of audiences. I should note that this could easily prompt kids to discuss their differing beliefs about Santa if this is read in a mixed group of opinions, but I think that can be a good thing for everyone involved if handled well. Differences should be celebrated, not ignored!

How Does Santa Go Down the Chimney? was a cute and cheeky read.

A Christmas Wish for Love by Mariah Lynne

A Christmas Wish for Love by Mariah Lynne
Publisher: World Castle Publishing
Genre: Romance, Holiday, Paranormal, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Have you ever had a holiday cookie that came with a set of instructions? You’re about to.

In this sweet, heart-warming holiday romance, a precocious twelve-year-old named Luci, short for Lucia, never met her mom because she died giving birth. Her dad, a Florida Gulf Coast Island veterinarian, loved his late wife so much that he does not date or look at any other woman even though women are attracted to him. He still wears his wedding ring and, every Saturday night, shares a box of her mom’s memories, hoping to keep her alive in Luci’s heart.

Luci’s elderly Swedish next-door neighbor Meta loves Luci like an adopted granddaughter. When Luci’s dad gets called in for an emergency on her birthday which happens to be Saint Lucia’s Day, Luci and her dog Chester visit Meta.

Meta gives Luci a surprise birthday gift as she leaves to take home and open later with her dad. Then the holiday magic begins.

A CHRISTMAS WISH FOR LOVE is an enchanting and inspiring story you will want to share with others!

Anything is possible during Christmas time.

This was a unique spin on the romance genre. I don’t think I’ve ever read a romance novel written from the perspective of a child whose father is falling in love before. Kids don’t always understand these things the same way adults do, so I smiled when Luci explained what was happening and occasionally gave creative reasons for why the grownups in her life were behaving the way that they did.

There were some inconsistent details in this story that I found confusing. For example, Luci was described as a twelve-year-old girl in some scenes and a thirteen-year-old girl in others. Her character was written in a way that either one could have easily been true, but I did wish that the narrator had been clearer about her age. Her mother’s name was also spelled in two different ways later on in the plot. Another round of editing would have fixed these things and made it possible for me to choose a higher rating.

I loved the strong, caring community that these characters lived in. Being a single parent isn’t easy, especially after such tragic circumstances that surrounded Luci’s birth, but Kyle was lucky enough to have plenty of friends and neighbors around who could help him give his child everything she needed other than a mother figure. Some of the most memorable scenes were the ones that showed how everyone stepped up to give this little family extra love and attention. They brought a tear to my eye because of how sweet they were.

A Christmas Wish for Love was a gentle holiday romance.

The Dis’Aster Family’s Halloween by Helen C. Johannes

The Dis’Aster Family’s Halloween by Helen C. Johannes
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Holiday, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Meet the Dis’Aster Family!

The kids are creative. The parents are outnumbered. And the pets, well, they’re unusual.

When the kids decide to enter a Halloween costume contest, what could possibly go wrong?

Come along for the ride. Can Halloween survive?

Spooky season is coming, and some folks are more ready for it than others are.

It’s always nice to see large, happy families in children’s stories. I don’t come across this sort of family very often these days, and I was intrigued by how all of the siblings might get along. Luckily, I soon discovered plenty of examples of the ways they played together and hints about what they thought about having lots of brothers and sisters. It was heartwarming to get to know the Dis’Asters and see how they tackled all sorts of things that are more complicated when you have more relatives to think about.

I would have liked to see more plot development. The first half or so of this picture book was spent introducing the many members of the Dis’Aster family and sharing their hobbies. As helpful as it was to know who everyone was, this also meant that there wasn’t as much time to show how they spent their Halloween as I was expecting. Given how important that holiday was to them, I was surprised by the smaller amount of space that ended up being saved for it.

This read like something a child would come up with if he or she were telling it. Tapping into the imaginative ways kids think can be difficult for adults, so I tip my cap to Ms. Johannes for pulling it off so well. Creativity was infused into scenes that many adult readers might assume would turn out a different way instead. I smiled every time the characters once again did something I wasn’t expecting them to do.

The Dis’Aster Family’s Halloween was an exciting ride.

The Skull by Jon Klassen

The Skull by Jon Klassen
Publisher: Candlewick
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.), Holiday, Paranormal, Historical
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Jon Klassen’s signature wry humor takes a turn for the ghostly in this thrilling retelling of a traditional Tyrolean folktale. In a big abandoned house, on a barren hill, lives a skull. A brave girl named Otilla has escaped from terrible danger and run away, and when she finds herself lost in the dark forest, the lonely house beckons. Her host, the skull, is afraid of something too, something that comes every night. Can brave Otilla save them both? Steeped in shadows and threaded with subtle wit—with rich, monochromatic artwork and an illuminating author’s note—The Skull is as empowering as it is mysterious and foreboding.

Would you spend the night in a haunted house?

Otilla was a brave girl who I quickly grew to like. She was kind and sweet even when she was afraid. That’s not always an easy thing to accomplish, so it made me more curious to learn about where she came from and why she was running away from something that frightened her in the first scene. The more I learned about her, the more I wanted to know.

Some of the scenes in this picture book were pretty intense, especially since this was rated for ages 4 and older. I would be hesitant to read this with younger kids without first figuring out how much horror they can handle. Certainly some of them would love it, but I also felt that the talking skull’s biggest fear in life was much darker than what is typically written for preschoolers and elementary-aged readers.

Otilla’s friendship with the skull was sweet. Both of them had pasts they didn’t want to talk about and seemed to find difficult. It was rewarding to watch them figure out they had this in common and decide they were going to protect each other. Few things are better than having a friend who behaves so loyally!

I would have loved to see more character and plot development. The eerie setting had a nice Halloween vibe, but there weren’t a lot of explanations about who the skull was when it was alive and still had the rest of its body or how they were connected to the grand old mansion that was now slowly falling apart. As an adult, I was able to make certain assumptions about what the author might have meant based on subtle context clues, but I don’t think a lot of kids would necessarily pick up on enough of them to make sense of everything without help.

With that being said, I did enjoy the scenes that explained what the skull could and couldn’t do. For example, it could taste tea, but it could not keep tea inside of its mouth because it didn’t have a body or a stomach to digest it. There were multiple examples like this, and each one made me smile as I added more details to my mental file of what this character’s abilities and limitations were.

The Skull was a spooky Halloween read.

The Christmas Letter by Kathi Daley

The Christmas Letter by Kathi Daley
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Cozy Mystery, Holiday, Contemporary
Rating: 4 stars
Review by Snowdrop

Set in the small town of White Eagle Montana, the series features Tess and her dog Tilly, who spend their days delivering the latest gossip along with the daily mail. When a close friend is murdered, Tess and Tilly join forces with the reclusive genius in town to sleuth out the truth behind the shocking murder that is rocking the community as it prepares for the annual Christmas Festival.

If you like quaint types of characters and pets, you’re gonna think this is fun. Tess is a local postal carrier in a small town and Tilly is her ever faithful (and very well-behaved) dog. The Christmas Letter is the first book in a series titled Tess and Tilly.

This is the type of small town where everyone knows everyone, knows their business too 🙂 Tess knows everyone on her route and can’t even help but notice who is beginning to get their Christmas cards or not. She also can’t help but notice when someone she delivers to isn’t answering the door. Even Tilly notices.

This is your typical cozy, except I thought it had a little more depth. It has an amateur sleuth, a handsome cop, and of course a dead body, but it has some underlying layers of mystery that make it an interesting read. It is even difficult to decide if Tilly should like the new vet or not with so much going on.

The author writes well so this flows well and is a quick read. I was very glad to see Kathi Daley had more publications. I’ll enjoy reading more.

Witch & Wombat by Ashley Belote

Witch & Wombat by Ashley Belote
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Holiday, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Every witch will want a wombat after reading this humorous picture book perfect for little readers who want a new pet!

Wilma, a young witch, cannot wait to get her very first cat! But when the pet store is fresh out of kittens, Wilma brings home. . . a wombat?! What a CAT-astrophe! A wombat is nothing like a cat, but maybe if Wilma puts cat ears on the little critter, no one will notice. . . . (Spoiler alert: they do.)

This bright and fun picture book teaches young witches that our differences can be our strengths when we have an open mind!

Witches know exactly what they need…right?

This tale had a playful sense of humor that worked well for the surprises that sometimes come up during the spookiest time of year. I chuckled as I peered closer at certain funny illustrations and read other lines a second time for the sheer joy of it. Wilma was delightful, and her silly attempts to make her new pet act more like a cat couldn’t have been better. Halloween and humor aren’t mixed together very often, so it was heartwarming to see them included in the same storyline here.

I found myself wishing that the storekeeper had explained to Wilma why he thought a wombat was an acceptable substitute for the cat she had ordered. Did he make a mistake with the order form from his supplier? Were wombats a common pet to order from his store? Why didn’t he ask her in advance what she thought of this solution? The logic there never made sense to me, and it detracted from an otherwise enjoyable story.

With that being said, I did appreciate the messages about making the best of things, respecting differences, having a good sense of humor, and being flexible about your plans. These are lessons that many adults often need to learn just as much as kids do, so this is something that can appeal to readers of all ages. Life may not always turn out the way we like, but the plot twists in it might end up being even better than what we originally hoped for!

Witch & Wombat was a cute Halloween read.

How to Make Friends With a Ghost by Rebecca Green

How to Make Friends With a Ghost by Rebecca Green
Publisher: Andersen Press Ltd
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Holiday, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

What do you do when you meet a ghost? One: Provide the ghost with some of its favorite snacks, like mud tarts and earwax truffles. Two: Tell your ghost bedtime stories (ghosts love to be read to). Three: Make sure no one mistakes your ghost for whipped cream or a marshmallow when you aren’t looking! If you follow these few simple steps and the rest of the essential tips in How to Make Friends with a Ghost, you’ll see how a ghost friend will lovingly grow up and grow old with you.

A whimsical story about ghost care, Rebecca Green’s debut picture book is a perfect combination of offbeat humor, quirky and sweet illustrations, and the timeless theme of friendship.

It’s never too early to celebrate Halloween!

The nice thing about this tale was that it felt like Halloween but had a more generic autumn setting. This meant that it could be read in other cool, chilly months – or even not so chilly months – without me feeling like I was a reading something too out of season. There are spooky things to be found all throughout the year, after all, and it encouraged me to see what might make me shudder no matter when I might reread it.

There were some portions that I thought were far too scary for this age group. For example, one scene warned the reader not to eat their pet ghost and showed illustrations of ghosts who had been fried, baked, grilled, and otherwise turned into food. That could have been funny for older kids, but many of the little ones I’ve known would find it terrifying. If only the tone of that scene had remained lighthearted and playful like the rest of it was!

The portions that read like a pet care manual made me grin. Yes, of course there are similarities between taking care of a ghost and a more traditional companion like a rabbit, cat, or dog. This was a clever way to explain how hauntings work in this universe, and it makes me want to see what else the author has written.

I also found myself wondering why anyone would want to lure a ghost into their home in the first place. Most stories are about trying to get rid of the spirits haunting a person or a place, after all! It would have been help for the author to clarify what they were thinking there.

The last few scenes were unusual for this genre. It involved the main character growing old and their ghost reacting to that change. I don’t want to say much else about that to avoid sharing spoilers, but it could be a good jumping off point for discussions about aging and how families take care of each other.

How to Make Friends With a Ghost was creative.