I was inspired to write this blog post after a conversation I had with my mom the other day. We’re both major bookworms and we were discussing what constitutes a five star read for us.
I sometimes struggle with the rating system as I know everyone views it differently. For example, I’d only give five stars to a book that completely blew me away, while my mom gives five stars to the majority of books she enjoys. On the other hand, I would consider three stars as generally positive, whereas my mom wouldn’t recommend anything under four.
I give most of the titles I read either three or four stars. Five stars are for truly special books that have stayed with me ever since I finished them. In this post I thought I’d clarify my rating system and talk through what influences my reviews.
So, let’s get started! What do I look for in a book?
Characters, for me, can make or break a story. I can forgive a lacklustre plot if the characters are interesting. I like to read about people who are flawed, who have depth and aren’t one dimensional. I want protagonists that aren’t cliche or predictable. I want to love them, hate them, connect with them… if I don’t care what happens to anyone, then chances are the book won’t be my cup of tea.
A Compelling Plot
As I said, I can overlook a dissatisfying plot if the characters and other aspects of the book are excellent. However, the plot is the foundation of any story, so even though it’s not the most important feature for me I still want it to draw me in. After all, an interesting premise is what makes me pick up a book in the first place!
Strong Writing Style
The writing style doesn’t have to be spectacular in order for me to enjoy a book but it does, of course, play a part. If the prose is too plain then it fails to build an atmosphere, whereas if it’s overly flowery it distracts me. Obviously there are dozens of other aspects to good writing, but generally, if I can lose myself in a story and forget I’m reading a book, then to me the author has done a good job.
The Right Pace
Pacing is important. If nothing happens for the first few hundred pages I’m going to get bored. At the same time, rushed pacing will throw me off and leave me thinking, ‘what did I just read?’
The pacing needs to fit well with the genre and other elements of the plot. It should build tension in the right places without feeling clumsy or breaking the rhythm of the story.
A Great Ending
This is something I always consider when I’m rating a book. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve knocked stars off due to the fact an ending didn’t satisfy me. I don’t need everything to be wrapped up in a neat bow – I actually like some things left a little ambigious – but I do want some sort of closure.
I hate when an ending is rushed, feels gimmicky or overly far-fetched. Twists are fine as long as they add to the plot and aren’t included as a cheap, last minute attempt to shock the reader.
A lot of my favourite endings have been simple, peaceful conclusions that are thought provoking yet fulfilling.
Obviously the main point I focus on when reviewing a book is whether or not I enjoyed it! There have been plenty of titles I’ve read over years that had beautiful writing and/or an interesting plot, but they were a slog to get through. On the other hand, there are books that felt like ‘guilty pleasure’ reads to me; it might not have been award winning literature but I was hooked until the very end. We read for entertainment, so if a book keeps me engrossed then I’ll generally give it a high rating.
Now, let’s break down the stars…
As I said, I’m super picky with five star ratings – they’re reserved for my favourite books! For me, a five star read is pretty much flawless – there might have been a few things that I didn’t like but I can overlook them because I enjoyed everything else so much.
It will have a compelling plot, intriguing characters, beautiful writing and a satisfying ending. I’ll have read it quickly as I didn’t want to put it down, and I’ll think about it long after I’ve finished (the blissful ‘book hangover!’).
A five star read usually ignites an emotional connection. Either I become heavily invested in the characters, it makes me cry or it sparks a new interest (for example, The Other Boleyn Girl rekindled a childhood fascination with the Tudors!)
For me, the main thing that separates a four star from a five star is whether I’d read it again. There are plenty of books that I’ve enjoyed but am happy to pass on to friends/family once I’ve finished. Five star reads will have earned a treasured place on my book shelf, and I’ll happily revisit them over and over.
Some of my five star reads: The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillipa Gregory, Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid and the Harry Potter series.
It was still a fantastic read and I’d wholly recommend it. It was very nearly five stars or had the potential to be five stars. However, there was something missing – maybe the ending didn’t sit right with me, or there was a character I couldn’t connect with. Perhaps parts of the plot were a bit slow. Or, maybe everything was sound enough but it just didn’t blow me away like a five star read would.
Four star reads: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert, The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.
It was okay! There were some entertaining moments and I enjoyed it. I’m glad I read it – perhaps I even stayed up to finish it – but there was something seriously lacking. Maybe I adored the first half but struggled to finish the second (or vice versa). Maybe aspects of the plot were too far fetched. Or perhaps I had high expectations and it just didn’t live up to the hype for me.
Three star reads: The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides, The Flat Share by Beth O’Leary, The Foundling by Stacey Halls and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
I didn’t like it. It took me a while to get through as I struggled to concentrate and therefore kept putting it down. It’s likely I found the plot boring and I failed to relate to the characters. I probably forgot what happened the moment I finished it.
Many of my two star ratings are books that were beautifully written or had intriguing plots but failed to captivate me. I can understand why other people enjoyed them but personally they weren’t my cup of tea!
Two star reads: The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote.
I hated it. It was a real chore to finish and I very nearly gave up. I probably rolled my eyes throughout. Would have happily punched the main character in the face. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.
Luckily, I very rarely come across one star reads – the two I listed below are the only ones I could think of off the top of my head!
One star reads: Beach Read by Emily Henry and The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry.
So there we have it! My overall rating system. How do you review your books? What are some of your five star reads? x