Double Feature: In Search of Goliathus Hercules and Hold Fast


This is another double feature!  Today I’m reviewing two more middle grade novels called In Search of Goliathus Hercules by Jennifer Angus and Hold Fast by Blue Balliett

In Search of Goliathus Hercules by Jennifer Angus:

Age Range: 8 – 12 years

Grade Level: 3 – 7

Hardcover: 352 pages

Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company (March 1, 2013)

Series: None (I think)

Genre: Historical fantasy

Source: I received a digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley, which did not affect my review in any way.

My Rating: 3 of 5 stars

About the Book:

This is the fantastic story of Henri Bell, a near-orphan who in 1890 is sent to live with his ancient great-aunt and her extensive button collection. One rainy afternoon, Henri strikes up a conversation with a friendly fly on the windowsill and discovers he possesses the astounding ability to speak with insects. Thus commences an epic journey for Henri as he manages a flea circus, commands an army of beetles, and ultimately sets out to British Malaya to find the mythical giant insect known as Goliathus hercules. Along the way he makes friends both insect and human, and undergoes a strange transformation of his own. Artist Jennifer Angus, known for her Victorian-inspired exhibits of insect specimens, brings her distinctive sensibility to the pages of her first novel.

My Thoughts:

What a strange book. I can’t say I liked it, but I definitely didn’t hate it either. It was weird, different, and definitely not what I expected.

Henri is sent to live with his Great Aunt Georgie after his father goes missing. While at his Aunt’s house, Henri discovers he can speak to insects. He runs away to join a flea circus, and eventually ventures to Asia in search of both his father and the legendary beetle Goliathus Hercules. All this time, Henri experiences peculiar physical changes. He tries to explain away these changes until he can no longer hide them.

Like I already mentioned, this book is unusual. The antagonist is frightening, yet the problems with her are left unresolved. The reader never finds out what her motives are and why/how she goes to such great lengths to cause trouble for Henri.  I expected more resolution there. As for Henri, I don’t know what to think. It was such a strange ending to a book.  Bonus points for being different, I guess, but I can’t say I loved the way Henri’s story turned out.  That being said, I couldn’t have put this book down if I’d wanted to.  I was glued to the page, and that counts for something.

This book is definitely for a specific type of reader. If you are looking for something highly unusual and kind of creepy, give it a shot. If weird isn’t your thing, give it a pass.

Content: Some violence, but I consider it clean.


Hold Fast by Blue Balliett

Age Range: 8 – 12 years

Grade Level: 3 – 7

Hardcover: 288 pages

Publisher: Scholastic Press (March 1, 2013)

Series: None

Genre: Mystery/social issues

Source: I received a digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley which did not affect my review in anyway.

My Rating: 2 of 5 stars

About the Book:

From NYT bestselling author Blue Balliett, the story of a girl who falls into Chicago’s shelter system, and from there must solve the mystery of her father’s strange disappearance.

Where is Early’s father? He’s not the kind of father who would disappear. But he’s gone . . . and he’s left a whole lot of trouble behind.

As danger closes in, Early, her mom, and her brother have to flee their apartment. With nowhere else to go, they are forced to move into a city shelter. Once there, Early starts asking questions and looking for answers. Because her father hasn’t disappeared without a trace. There are patterns and rhythms to what’s happened, and Early might be the only one who can use them to track him down and make her way out of a very tough place.

With her signature, singular love of language and sense of mystery, Blue Balliett weaves a story that takes readers from the cold, snowy Chicago streets to the darkest corner of the public library, on an unforgettable hunt for deep truths and a reunited family.

About the Author:

Blue Balliett is the author of several bestselling, acclaimed mystery novels, including Chasing Vermeer (a Book Sense Book of the Year and an Edgar Award winner), The Wright 3, The Calder Game, and The Danger Box. She writes in the laundry room of her home in Chicago, Illinois, and you can find her online at

My Thoughts:

This was a weird read for me. I expected to like this book a lot, but unfortunately, it just didn’t measure up to my expectations.

The Pearl family ends up homeless after their father mysteriously disappears. The first half of the book deals with homeless life, getting settled and adjusting to living in a shelter, etc. It isn’t until the second half of the book that we get any clues on the missing father.

I had a difficult time connecting to the style of writing and to the characters. I went into the book expecting a mystery, and ended up getting wrapped up in the social issue surrounding homeless families. Just when I had adjusted my thinking to that side of the story, it became a mystery again.  There was also a lot of talk of rhythm, numbers, and poetry. I will admit that my thoughts wandered in those parts.

On the plus side, I did like the mystery. Not everything was believable, but that’s okay. Ultimately, I’d say give this book a shot. Most of the reasons I had for not enjoying the book were due to my own personal taste, so you may love it.  Besides, the cover is ah-mazing! 

Content: Clean


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