The Elusive 5 Star Rating and Backing Myself into a Corner

We all know that rating a book is completely subjective and we are probably pretty hard pressed to find two reviewers who do it exactly the same. I’ve never actually shared what my star ratings are supposed to mean because honestly I’ve never been completely sure. I haven’t really set up defined parameters, but have tried to just go with a gut feeling. That said, I will try to define what my star ratings mean a little later.

Mona lisa- Parks and Rec

When I first started this blog, I had it in the back of my mind that maybe, possibly, eventually I could become good enough that I could find some site that would like to hire me to write reviews.  So I wanted to be able to really critically review books, based on many aspects of writing and not just on how much I enjoyed a book. And giving, say, Anna and the French Kiss, 5 stars is not something that would convince anyone of my critical analysis skills.

8 Reasons Why I Love "Parks and Rec"

So in that spirit, I started out this blog by being pretty harsh with my ratings. Once I realized that this would never be anything more than a hobby, I started to become a little more generous, but I still haven’t ever given a book 5 stars. And now, after 3 years of blogging, I feel like I can’t change my mind about how I rate. If I suddenly lower my standards when it comes to 5 star ratings it feels unfair to the books I’ve read previously. I’m also afraid that by those new standards, I could end up with 5 star rated books that are not as good as some of my 4 star rated books. And yes I realize this doesn’t really effect anyone except myself, but it really give me anxiety sometimes.

I got Craig Middlebrooks! You are super intense and care very deeply about a lot of things. You have difficulty modulating your voice, but it’s just because you CARE TOO MUCH!

This also makes me really suspicious of other people’s 5 star ratings. There are some reviewers out there that seem to pass them out like candy to every book they read. When every book is 5 stars, how can I trust their opinion? Of course, when most of my books are around 3 stars, it appears that I don’t really have much of an opinion. But, still, there are so many hyped books out there that I find just ok and everyone else is giving it 5 star ratings and I just can’t wrap my head around it.

Dear Makers of Telephone Books: NO. - Blogtown - Portland Mercury

Ok, so what’s my rating criteria??

1 star – Completely awful with basically no redeeming characteristics.

2 stars – Has a couple of redeeming qualities, but mostly complaints. May include: terrible writing, unlikable or underdeveloped characters, outlandish or boring plot.

3 stars – Is enjoyable and pretty well-written, but nothing that really stands out from the genre. It could be something I really enjoyed, but I still have issues with writing/plot/characters, etc. or something that had great writing or a couple of great characters, but lacked in every other aspect.

4 Stars – Both enjoyable and well written. Stands out amongst similar books. Have only a couple, minor complaints.

5 Stars – Perfection. Completely enjoyable and really well written. Not a single complaint.

small gold and silver glittery stars | Tiny Gold Metallic Stars Glitter by Theglittersource on Etsy:

Some books I’ve reviewed that have come close to 5 Stars

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Golden Son by Pierce Brown

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

What are you review rating criteria? Do you think you’re too generous or too harsh? Do you think I should lower my standards for 5 star reviews or hold out for that perfect book?

40 thoughts on “The Elusive 5 Star Rating and Backing Myself into a Corner

  1. I am far too generous with my 5 star ratings, but It’s because my reading list is stacked with favorite authors and genres. I read what I love. I rarely make time for books in genres I don’t like. I’m sure I’d be a lot more critical of books if they hadn’t already made it through the “Is this my thing?” filter. In addition, because my time is precious, I don’t like to read a book unless someone else has already given it 5 stars. With so many books out there, I don’t want to waste my time on a mediocre one.

  2. It is because of your strict rating that I trust you completely. I know that if you rate something highly, it is worth picking up. Lately, as you pointed out, I feel like a lot of reviewers hand out 5 stars to every book they read. Sometimes I feel like it’s just to keep the author happy so they can get advanced copies of their books. And I’m not saying I’m not guilty of the 5 star rating – I do give them quite often, (and let’s be honest, always for CoHo, lol), but my ratings differ from others. I rate a book based on how much I enjoyed it, if it’s not cheesy, and if I was able to read it fairly quickly (ie, suspenseful, didn’t want to put it down, didn’t drag). But I still try not to rate everything I read 5 stars if it doesn’t deserve it.
    It’s hard to trust those reviewers that give every book 5 stars, so I appreciate reviewers like you that are honest. I don’t have as much time to read as I want, so the last thing I want to do is waste time on a book that’s not going to live up to my expectations.
    This is such a good topic. I was actually just thinking about this last week and had went to Goodreads to unfollow several reviewers that I didn’t feel I could trust anymore. I have limited time to read, and don’t want to be adding books to my TBR that really aren’t worth my time – and peer pressure always gets me!! Lol.
    Also, I’ve been meaning to ask you if you follow this site I follow her blog and Instagram account. She only reads suspense/mystery, and I really feel like she’s honest and I can trust her opinions and reviews. She’s put a lot of good books on my radar. I thought of you because of our mutual love of suspense.

    • While you do have a fair amount of 5 star ratings, I think you have enough other ratings that it means something special when you give it 5 stars. And I definitely agree that some people give All The Stars just to suck up to authors/publishers. I refuse to believe that they absolutely love and adore every single hyped book ever written haha. Thanks for the blog recommendation! I’m definitely going to try it out. After my contemporary binge I am really craving suspense and if you like them, I’m sure I will too.

  3. Great post, Stephanie!
    I agree. When I first started reviewing I think I was a little too critical as well. And of course all reviews are personal and can be influenced by lots of factors, and not just by personal taste, but sometimes I find if I don’t have much time to read or have too much on the go my perspective of a book can almost be swayed.
    However, saying that I find the five-star rating system a little too limiting. On my blog I chose to use a rating out of 10. I know most might find this strange, but personally, I feel that there is a big difference between three stars (60%) and say four stars (80%), etc. I know most people like to stick to the five-star system and I do sometimes have to round up or down depending on my score for the commercial review sites, but I just think it’s fairer to me as a reviewer and to the authors I’m reviewing for to have a little more variance in rating and hope to portray a much more accurate review that way.

  4. A book has to be special for me to give it 5 stars on Goodreads. I suppose I haven’t put much thought into the other star ratings, as I don’t regularly review books. But I like your system. A book has to be pretty darn good to get 5 stars. I do have to say though, that all three Red Rising books are 5 stars for me. 🙂

  5. I think your rating system is fin and you are doing a great job! I agree with Brandie. If you rate a book at 4 or 5 stars, I know it is definitely worth picking up. Also, if you repeatedly mention an author in different lists (Kristan Higgins 🙂 )even if you have rated the books at 3, I will give them a try.
    My personal rating system is not as strict but I am not a blogger people are following. I would be stricter and pick a plot apart more if I were. My ratings are all based on how a book made me feel. A perfect example is Catch Of The Day by Kristan Higgins. I am reading it for the 3Rd time. I don’t think it stands out among other romance novels or is a literary masterpiece but I love it so I gave it 5. Unfortunately, I see my rating system can be misleading. Not everyone is going to love books for the same reason I do.

    • Thank you! When I first started reviewing I don’t think I gave any romances more than 3 stars because they were “silly little romance books.” I did go back and change some of those ratings to 4s because Kristan Higgins is such a great author! While there is a lot of silly romance stuff, she also does really great character development. But they’re still silly and I usually have some issue with something in it, so they can’t get 5 from me haha.
      I think it’s fine if people rate books based only on how much they enjoy them. But I compare every body else’s ratings to how I rate, so I think that’s why I get so frustrated at the discrepancies. I know many people post their rating system on their blogs somewhere, so I should probably check those out before I read reviews.

      And on a completely unrelated note. Are you a Leigh Bardugo fan? She’s going to be in South Euclid on the 28th of this month. I am kind of thinking about going, but I’m not familiar with the area at all. I’m afraid it will be a little too big-city for me haha. I know you live a little further north than I do (thought not that far up, I don’t think), but wondered if you were familiar with it at all?

  6. I have not read any of Leigh’s books yet but I think I will if she is coming here. If I end up loving them, I wouldn’t want to miss her!
    My hubby was told at work that South Euclid isn’t a great area. It may depend on where you are. It borders some Heights which he was told to avoid when we looking for a house. I checked and the part of South Euclid the library is in is only about 10 minutes from 2 upscale shopping malls (Legacy Village and Beachwood Place) so I am familiar with the area. It is definitely a different atmosphere driving there. I271 is a bigger freeway then 77. It is a busier area with the 2 malls and I think there is also a university near by but I am not positive. It won’t be a complicated drive with a lot of directions but it will probably be a busy one. I don’t love driving up here but I don’t let it stop me from going places I really want to go. I hope that helps. I can get a bit wordy and rambly 🙂

    • Thank you, that does help! I have driven to the Cleveland area before a few times, but usually I don’t go too far past North Canton hahah. I’m still not sure if I’m going to do it, but I’m going to plan on it right now. You’ll need to let me know if you end up going, too!
      And I definitely recommend Six of Crows! The second book (it’s only duology) comes out the day before she’ll be here so I think it would be cool to buy the new one there for her to sign!

      • I will let you know. I couldn’t get Six of Crows 😦 now so I have it on hold. I got Shadow and Bone. I am liking it so far but I am only on page 20. I am participating in a read a thon so I should get a lot more (maybe even the whole book) read today.

      • Sorry if this is a duplicate comment. I can’t find the one I thought I just left lol. I loved the book and can’t wait to get Six of Crows! I am planning on going to the event and just registered on the libraries site for it. It is from 7-8:30. It would be great if we could meet there! Or before and I can drive in.

      • I’m so glad you liked it! And I can’t wait for you to get to Six of Crows either haha! I registered, too, just in case I could actually force myself to go. That would actually be really awesome if we could meet up before hand! The thought of driving myself there kind of gives me anxiety attacks. I could buy you a book there in exchange for driving 🙂

  7. I give a fair amount of 4 and 5-star ratings. The lowest I give is a 3. Anything below 3 stars I don’t review. I try to be very choosy about books that I read, because, in my limited time for reading, I don’t want to waste my time on a book I don’t feel I can review.
    Why don’t I review below three stars? Reviewing is an individual’s opinion. Most books have redeeming qualities, but may not appeal to me, whether the style of writing, subject matter, execution of the story, or lack of proper editing and proofing. An author works hard to get his/her book out to the reader. Rather than trashing the book or the author, I prefer to send a note to the author explaining why I chose not to review the book. If the author can make a success of the book by going back and correcting its shortcomings, I don’t want to discourage future readers with a bad review.

    • That’s an interesting perspective. I feel more of a responsibility to readers than to the authors, so I’ll review the spectrum of ratings if I feel I have enough to say.
      I could probably stand to be a little choosier on what I read, too. I pick a lot of things up on a whim and should probably do more “homework” about them first to see if it’s something I’ll actually enjoy.

      • Yes, but in the end, if an author goes back to the ‘drawing board’ and makes corrections or rewrites, the reader gets a much better book. I read primarily Indie authors.

  8. I think as long as you know what you mean, that’s the important part lol on my blog, I have listed my 5-star reads as basically books where I am so in love with everything that is happening that I want to be best friends with these characters and hang out with them in real life. 😀 I guess for me, a 5-star usually comes down to a book I want to read not just maybe one or two more times, but again and again. Whether or not I would be willing to read a book a second time is often my deciding factor between 3 and 4 stars, actually. So yeah – 1 star means the book was horrific and maybe I didn’t even finish it; 2 stars means I kinda wish I hadn’t *bothered* reading it (haha); 3 stars means it wasn’t a waste of time but I don’t see myself picking it up ever again; 4 stars is I would read it again in a few years; 5 stars is I purchased this for my personal library and will read it multiple times.

    But the point is (since I’ve already written a ridiculous amount, why not keep rambling??) is that as along as your rating system makes sense to you, that’s the important bit. And I find that book blogs that I read regularly, I get a feel for what their ratings are like, and you seem to be pretty consistent with yourself, which is the important thing!

    • That sounds like a pretty good rating system. If I did that I would definitely have some 5 star reviews. I’m a big re-reader, even ones that I didn’t Love, I sometimes get in the mood to read again. I think my biggest problem is that I can’t stop comparing other people’s ratings to how I rate mine. But I’m going to try to do better. And I think I really do need to look through people’s sites to see if they have what their ratings mean, as that would probably help (and I should probably do that on my own!).

      • haha yes, and I wouldn’t be afraid to change your rating criteria if you feel dissatisfied with what you have (or to keep it if you like it!). You can always have a page with information about your star-rating, and say something at the top about “this started on such and such date; books reviewed before that date don’t follow this criteria” or some such.

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  10. I go through spurts where everything is a 5 star book and then everything is a 3 star book. My system is so general because I’ve always based it off the Goodreads star system for the sake of simplicity. I thought about re-evaluating my rating system earlier this year but decided to keep it the same. It was too hard to come up with criteria when I thought about the various genres I read. Instead, I’ve been making a conscious effort to not rate books on how that last chapter made me feel but how the entire book made me feel. And I feel like I’ve been getting more accurate ratings and not ones that are inflated because of the ending.

    • It’s definitely hard to change up a rating system after you’ve been reviewing for awhile. And I think it’s a good idea basing a rating off the entire book and not the end (or other particular part). I try to do that, but there have been a few I’ve probably rated too high or too low based on the ending.

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