Writing Reviews – My Rating System

Writing Reviews: My Rating System (caitsbooks.com)

The longer I’ve been writing book reviews, the more confused I get with my own rating system.

Rating are hard. I really struggle with them. Since I use Goodreads a lot (shameless plug- add me as a friend), I wanted to keep things consistent and rate every book out of 5 stars. However, with so many people rating books from 1-5 stars, everyone now has their own meaning behind what a 5 star/3 star/1 star book is. Even my own meaning has changed.

So, for the sake of clarification, I want to explain what my ratings mean, and give some examples for each!

First, in every review I include “Quick Stats“. These are for people who don’t feel like reading a whole review and just want to know the basics on why I gave that book that rating. All of these are scored from 1-5.

My Quick Stats make a lot of sense to me, but it dawned on me that some people may not know what specifically I’m think of when I rate each stat. So, to clear things up, here’s a quick run down of what I mean:

Overall: This is my official star rating of the book as a whole

Characters: This focuses on the characters, theirs arcs, and the main relationships. I usually ask myself: Were the characters realistic? Well-Developed? Memorable? Were their actions believable?

Setting: Here is where I think about the world building and setting. This stat is more important in Fantasy books than contemporary, but sometimes the setting of a contemporary helps make it stand out. For this one, I ask: Was the setting well-developed? Unique? Did I get a solid understanding of this world or was I struggling to understand it?

Writing: This is probably the most subjective stat. I focus on the writing style and voice, and whether or not I enjoyed it. However, just because I enjoyed the style, doesn’t mean it’s objectively good or that you will enjoy it (although I guess that applies to every other stat too). I’ll usually ask myself: Did the writing have a distinct voice? Was it funny/poignant/beautiful/unique?

Plot and Themes: Admittedly, for this one I focus more on the plot than the themes (unless the themes are part of the reason why I picked it up). For this, I’ll ask myself: Did the book have an important message? Did it handle heavier themes well? Was the pacing good? Did the twists catch me by surprise? Was I on the edge of my seat? Was it addictive?

Awesomeness Factor: Sometimes, a book is just enjoyable and great even if, logically, it shouldn’t be. That’s where this comes in. The important questions with this stat are: Was I smiling while reading? Was there anything unique that made it stand out? Did I never want it to end?

So those are my smaller ratings, but let’s focus on that “Overall” rating!

No Rating

I always try to rate a book, but if not, it’s usually for one of two reasons:

  1. I read it a long time ago and honestly can’t remember how I feel about it/need to reread it to be confident in a rating
  2. It was sent to me to read, and it wasn’t for me. I will sometimes still rate these, but if there are only a few other reviews, I won’t rate it. I wouldn’t want my rating to change the overall rating of a book just because it wasn’t for me.

1 Star

Crescendo by Becca Fitzpatrick

I feel a little bad giving an example for this one, but then I remember how frustrated I was when I read this book and I don’t feel guilty anymore.

I avoid 1 star ratings at all costs, it’s the lowest rating I could give (except, perhaps, 0.5 stars, but Goodreads doesn’t allow that so I don’t do it often). This means that if I gave a book this rating, it did something bad. It probably ruined my day, or was impossible to get through. Usually this is because of something problematic, plus overall bad writing/plot/characters.

A sign the book I’m reading may be 1 star is if I’m struggling to force myself to read even one more page, or if I keep ranting about it to everyone who dares come near me.

2 Stars

Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi (2.5) [Review]
Bloodleaf by Crystal Smith (2.5) [Review]

I didn’t enjoy it. If it’s a solid 2 stars, then I really didn’t like it, but perhaps there were a couple of redeeming qualities.

If it’s 2.5 stars, then there were a lot of factors I didn’t like, but a few big factors I liked. Maybe the writing was bad, but I still enjoyed the plot. Or the characters were compelling enough to hold my interest despite a poorly developed setting. 2.5 stars could also mean that it was overall okay, but there was something major that was problematic and ruined it for me.

3 Stars

The Iron King by Julie Kagawa
Wicked Fox by Kat Cho [Review]
Roar by Cora Carmack (3.5) [Review]

3 stars means different things to everyone, but for me, it means “solidly okay”. A 3 star book isn’t one I would beg my friends to read, or would even really recommend unless I know it falls under their specific niche interests. Usually these books are good in some areas, but underwhelming in others. If a book is 3 stars, I typically forget who the characters are and any minor plots in only a few days.

3.5 stars is slightly different. These books are similar to 3 star books, but I really did enjoy reading them. Yes, I wouldn’t recommend them to everyone, but if you’re not a highly critical reader and you’re looking for a fun time, these books are perfect.

4 Stars

The Tiger at Midnight by Swati Teerdhala (4.5) [Review]
Rosemarked by Livia Blackburne [Review]
The Lady Rogue by Jenn Bennett [Review]

This is my most common rating. I’m not a harsh critic, I go into every book hoping to enjoy it, and if I rated it 4 stars, it means it met my expectations. I liked (or even loved) most of the book. There may be one or two aspects of it that I know weren’t perfect, but I still found myself enjoying the experience.

4.5 star reads are really, really good, and I know they’ll stick with me, but there was one or two small issues that kept it from being a solid 5 stars.

5 Stars

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo [Review]
Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan [Review]
Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff [Review]
Serpent and Dove by Shelby Mahurin [Review]
Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston [Review]
We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal [Review]

yes, I know those are a lot of examples but how could I choose between my children?

I loved this book. If it got 5 stars, it means I was smiling through this book, or perhaps crying. This book was everything I wanted it to be and more. The characters were memorable, the plot was gripping, and the writing was great.

I’m pretty generous with my 5 star rating, I know it. Just because I rated it 5 stars, doesn’t mean it’s absolutely perfect. There may be some flaws, but overall, I found it really easy to look over those flaws (if I even noticed them). These are the books I constantly go back to to reread. It’s best to maintain a healthy 15 foot radius away from me if I just finished reading a 5 star book, because it will be the only thing I’m able to talk about, and I will desperately want to talk about it.

I know this was long, but hopefully this helps to explain whats going on inside my head when I’m writing my reviews.

Of course, rating books isn’t always perfectly straightforward, and sometimes other factors will contribute to why a book is rated the way it is. Plus, opinions and tastes change! I know I always tend to rate a book higher right after I finish it vs. a year later. I try to accommodate for that in my reviews, but that doesn’t always work.

Okay, the word “rating” has officially lost all meaning to me, so I think that’s a sign I should stop.

Now, I want to hear from you guys!! I would love to see more people discuss what their ratings mean on their blog, or social media, or in the comments below!!!

What’s your most common rating? Also, what does 3 stars mean to you? Everyone seems to have different meanings, and I’m curious to see all of yours!!

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