Writing a Book Review with Nathan Hopp

We asked Nathan Hopp to give us some feedback on writing book reviews. He started the Reader’s Boulevard Review Blog a few years ago, and has a few thoughts on how to write a fair review. Enjoy! 

Everyone likes to be a critic.

It’s a truth as real as the beliefs we carry. As a critic you feel entitled to judge everything in either an analytical or enjoyable outlook. You’re giving your opinion on someone’s work, which has changed and evolved over time. In this digital age of social media, blockbuster films, and the Internet, more people prefer visual entertainment over the written word. Therefore, it can often be a challenge to review a random book in an honest, constructive manner. Personally, I like to judge a novel on its most basic objective that anyone can agree on: if it can entertain while leaving an impact.

Now this single objective isn’t black and white. There are dozens of books that can inspire without having good plot, characters, etc. or even vice-versa. When reviewing a book, I dislike judging it with the mindset that it is a masterpiece. No novel is perfect, and no novel will appeal to every single person on the planet, so I keep an open mind on the targeted demographics it’s likely aimed for. If you’re usually a contemporary reader but not a fan of historical fiction, don’t negatively judge it solely because you aren’t fond of the genre. Everyone has different tastes, so a reviewer shouldn’t hate something solely because it isn’t a genre or type of story catered for them.

For me, I can read almost anything, whether it be contemporary, young adult, fantasy, historical, or hardcore sci-fi. However, my favorite kind of novel is the one that has a plot where you don’t know where it’s going. It has memorable characters with personalities that keep you engaged (especially if the story’s tied to their struggles), a setting fascinating enough to explore if they existed, writing crisp and fluent enough to make you feel like you’re experiencing what’s happening on the pages, and a villain you love to hate or even sympathize with.

Like I said though, this can go either way in books. One could have a fantastic plot and bland characters while another might have an incredibly complex villain and a weak setting, maybe even vice-versa with any of these varieties. It’s all subjective in the eyes of the reviewer, and it’s not a bad thing to hold in regard. Listen to others’ opinions, whether they be the reader, the critic, or even the author themselves. In the same way anyone can be a critic, so can anyone have the privilege to decide what makes a book entertaining.

About the Author:

Born in Green Bay, Wisconsin in 1996, Nathan Hopp grew up the oldest of three rambunctious brothers. As a child, he inherited his love for literature from his mother and his love for science fiction/fantasy from his father. He has been a dedicated bookworm since grade school, reading through corny romance novels one hour to an entire Young Adult series in less than a week. In high school, Nathan’s interest grew into writing, eventually leading him to haikus, short stories, vignettes, and novels. Currently attending UW-Eau Claire as an English major with an emphasis in Creative Writing, Nathan spends most of his free time as an avid participant in the furry fandom, surviving one semester at a time, and running a review blog. Learn more about Nathan and his book on social media: Facebook.com/NathanWHopp or at Twitter.com/HoppNate.

Reader Review: The 29 Most Common Writing Mistakes And How To Avoid Them by Judy Delton

Title: The 29 Most Common Writing Mistakes And How To Avoid Them

Author: Judy Delton

Publisher: Writer’s Digest Books

Format: Hard cover

Pages: 73 Pages

Reviewer: Brittiany

This is a thin, easy reference book to help writers. Like the title stipulates, this work explains twenty-nine different mistakes writers may make with the craft or their writing career. It also explains ways to elude these mistakes. Although this book was published in 1985, most of the tips can still be applied today. Some of the tips are related to: procrastination, punctuation, generalizations, wanting everyone to read your story, research, not giving up on the craft, and so much more!

WD’s E. Tip: It’s important to stay informed of the craft/industry. When taking a break from writing or revising your work, use resource books like this one to better understand your craft, especially if a critique partner or editor isn’t readily available. 🙂

Reader Review: Eric by Terry Pratchett

Title: Eric

Author: Terry Pratchett

Format: Paperback

Page Count: 197 pages

Publisher: HarperCollins

Reviewer: Susan

Terry Pratchett’s Eric is part of the Discworld series, which mixes sorcerers, demons, DEATH (that’s how the character—DEATH, complete with his hood and scythe–appears in the book), magic and a whole bunch of philosophical humor into a sharp, witty storyline I can’t get enough of.

Adolescent Eric, while trying to summon a demon, instead summons not so skilled/lucky/ambitious sorcerer Rincewind.  Rincewind is no demon, but Eric is not to be easily satisfied.  Rincewind “grants” him three wishes, and Eric chooses to live forever, be master of the universe, and have one of the wild women of history as a girlfriend. Rincewind tries, but everything doesn’t go smoothly.  First worshipped as gods, Eric and Rincewind find some people think the gods have a LOT to answer for…and they will be providing the answers…or the (human) sacrifices, hence DEATH’s hanging around.  Did I mention there’s a Wizard University with a librarian who is (now) happily an orangutan and ferocious Luggage with hundreds of legs that eats whatever is inconvenient or disliked in its path?

WD’s E. Tip: Pratchett’s writing is ironic and very, very funny.  If you enjoy British humor, this book, and this series, is for you! It’s a great way to learn how to write humor.

Reader Review: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

Title: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie

Author: Ayana Mathis

Format: Hard cover

Page Count: 243 pages

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf

Reviewer: Susan


The Twelve Tribes of Hattie begins in 1925, with seventeen year old Hattie Shepherd’s struggle to save her infant twins, Philadelphia and Jubilee, who are slowly coughing themselves, Hattie fears, to death.  This dramatic opening serves as an introduction to Hattie’s ten other children, who, chapter by chapter, have their stories told, the first in 1948 and the last in 1980.  Through the children’s stories, we learn what has happened to Hattie and her husband, August.

Each chapter could serve as the springboard for another novel, but the book is not disjointed and the reader does not feel crucial information has been left unsaid.  There are no perfect people among Hattie’s Twelve Tribes, and Hattie herself certainly isn’t perfect.  Drug addiction, adultery, mental illness, poverty, economic success by legal and illegal means, religious fervor and hypocrisy—all are enjoyed or endured by the Shepherd family.

The book reads with compelling flow; it can be difficult to put down!

WD’s Editorial Tip: It’s okay to do something with a novel that’s outside the box. Using the different chapters to show what happens in the Shepherd family is a great example.

Reader’s Review: Gentle Rogue by Johanna Lindsey

Title: Gentle Rogue

Author: Johanna Lindsey

Format: Paperback

Page Count: 426 pages

Publisher: Avon

Reviewer: Sabrena

Gentle Rogue is a journey over the seas in a love story between aristocrat James Malory, the blacksheep of the Malory family, and American Georgina Anderson, the youngest sister of five over-protective brothers. Lindsey keeps her readers enthralled with an arrogant ex-pirate who prefers to get his way using his wit or fists, and a well-bred lady disguised as a cabin boy. This romance between a devilish rogue and a stubborn young woman is filled with witty, humorous dialogue and unpredictable action.

WD’s Editorial Tip: This novel is part of a series, The Malory Novels. Lindsey shows the story of a different hero and heroine in each Malory novel, the one constant being an appearance by the handsome Malory brothers.  This is a great series to study characterization to learn how to: 1) age your characters, 2) write dialogue with multiple characters, and 3) interact well-loved characters with new characters.

Reader Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Reader Review: Reading non-fiction can be just as entertaining as fiction.

Title:                 The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Author:             Rebecca Skloot

Version:            Paperback

Genre:              Nonfiction

Publisher:         Crown Publishing

Reviewer:         Stewart

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a nonfiction book that engages the reader as grippingly as a good novel. Skloot was sixteen when she heard about HeLa cells, which in 1951 had been grown from the cancer of a woman named Henrietta Lacks. The cells had the unexplained ability to replicate in tissue culture “forever,” and they provided the basis for thousands of important scientific studies during the following decades. Yet nothing was known of Henrietta Lacks. This story stayed with Skloot through college and graduate school and led to her 10-year research for this book–the story not only of Henrietta and her family, but also of the doctors who treated her, the scientists who developed and used her cells, the journalists who, during the 1970’s, sensationalized her story without regard to the privacy or feelings of the family, and the impact of all of this on family members.

Henrietta and her family were poor and black, deprived of education, work, and other opportunities in Baltimore, where Jim Crow in the 1950’s was still strong. Most hospitals did not offer care to black patients, and Henrietta received “charity” care in the “colored” sections of the Johns Hopkins Hospital. Medical care was primitive by today’s standards and medical research was even more so. Communication between doctors and patients was governed by the notion that the all-powerful doctor was obliged to tell patients only what he felt was in the patient’s interest. “Informed consent” did not cross the minds of early clinical researchers, who conducted many potentially harmful studies on patients without their knowledge. Henrietta received standard radiation treatment (with severe side effects) and died 6 months after her diagnosis. Her medical care was not unusual; it was an example of how bad care was for everyone, especially poor people.

But Skloot doesn’t stop there. She describes medical progress (through the lens of HeLa cellular research) during the following years, as well as the efforts to improve communication with patients and their families, including Henrietta’s family.

The stories are complicated, but Skloot writes with feeling and an eye for detail that keeps the different narratives lively and connected. For me the book was a page-turner.

WD’s Editorial Tip: This is a good example of a nice balance of medical research and storyline so the reader learns about the topic at hand, but can also take away the hard lessons learned about the people in the story.

It by Stephen King

Reader Review: Sometimes it’s great to reread a book that’s been out for a while, or discover it for the first time. 🙂

Author:                Stephen King
Title:                    It
Pages:                 1090

Version:              Paperback

Genre:                 Horror

Publisher:            Signet

Reviewer:            Michael


Evil happens in small town Derry, Maine when seven 6th graders go up against an entity. To some, this entity appears as a clown, and to others their own worst nightmare. It feeds on their fears. Then, after twenty-eight years of success, these individuals have to face it again. Will they be able to escape the horrors from their past?

In my opinion, this is Stephen King’s best novel. What compelled me to continue reading was the way the characters were portrayed, the sacrifice, and the pure evil of the villain. King’s flashbacks are seamless. I recommend it to anyone who is looking for an intriguing read.

WD’s Editorial Note: For writers looking to learn how to write flashbacks, this is a great novel to study.

Reader Reviews!

Captured by a Cowboy by Jean Barrett:

Captured by a Cowboy is one of those stories that actually transports you to the Old Wild West, making you feel like you’re there with the characters. The main characters play off one another nicely, each having their own mysterious background and internal conflicts. This story is an all-around fantastic book, and I highly recommend it!