When it comes to rating a book I can be a tough bitch. I’ve actually surprised myself with how many five-star ratings I’ve given out over the past year. I can’t help feeling that if I went back and re-rated some of those books, in hindsight, not all of them would make the five-star cut. Yes, I’m that cruel.
So, let me tell you a little about what I’m thinking when I rate a book.
First off, it’s rare that I read a book a second time around. In fact, since adulthood, I think I’ve only re-read the Virgin Suicides, a few books by Angela Carter (who happens to be my favourite author) and a couple of mass-market PNR series. See note
Five-star books are ones that I would actually pick up to read again. You know, if I ever managed to get through the majority of my TBR. They’re the sort of books that stick with you for days after you’ve finished them, ones that don’t let you put them down or haunt you as you’re trying to fall asleep. It could be the characters, the plot, or even the writing style that engender this feeling.
There are a lot of elements that need to fall into place for me to award a book five stars. But, you can bet if I’ve gone all out with my rating, then it’s a must-read.
Four stars is where I want to see the majority of my reviews falling. This is a good, solid rating. For me, a four-star book is an enjoyable read, well written, and draws me into the world that it’s created in.
There are a lot of books that haven’t made it into five-star territory because the plot hasn’t been quite compelling enough, the characters aren’t as strong as they could be, or the story elements haven’t quite added up. Sometimes I’ve just not managed to engage enough with the story or characters to give it that final star. This doesn’t make it a bad book, just one that’s not outstanding enough for that final star.
Three stars is where I see books lacking in the substance that could make them brilliant. Common issues I see include glossing over plot points or sensitive issues, lack of depth, lacklustre characters or a slow pace (where this isn’t necessary to the story). If a book feels like filler between two parts of a series, it will likely fall into or near the three-star territory. The same goes for if it doesn’t compel me to read the next in the series.
I haven’t yet rated a book two stars but it’s certainly a possibility based on a few serials I’m currently reading. These books likely have weak writing, unresolved plot points, under-developed characters or issues with pacing. That’s not to say they’re not compelling reads, but they could certainly benefit from re-writing or a different editor.
If I commit to reviewing a book I’m going to make damned sure that I finish it, even if I hated it. A review is a review, after all. Just because I didn’t enjoy a book, doesn’t mean that others won’t. I will always do my best to justify why I didn’t like the book and explain what I did appreciate.
I’ve always been an obsessive reader, pretty much from the moment I learned to read. When I developed CFS my eyesight started to deteriorate due to fatigue. Combined with brain fog when I was at my worst, even if I could see the words on a page, I wouldn’t take them in or be able to keep up with more than the simplest of plots. It was not pretty. I gave up on books.
When my health started improving I began reading again, this time using large print to compensate. I started out with a few series that I’d already worked my way through as a test of whether I could cope with the mental aspects of understanding and following a plot. I doubt I’ll be reading Dostoevsky any time soon but then he didn’t write dark romance anyway.