Explaining My Review Grades

If you’ve ever spent time on this blog, first of all: thank you so much. Secondly, you’ve probably noticed that I really like doing book reviews. As a writer, it reviewing the books I read help me better understand what I like and what I don’t like when it comes to books. Critically examining a book helps me be a better writer. So I try to review almost every fiction book I read.

But that means that I should probably explain what I am thinking when I give books star ratings. Everyone has different ideas of what star rankings should mean, so it probably means that I should give a brief explanation of what my stars mean.

Background

I think like most people, I work off a one to five star system because of Goodreads. Long before I had this blog or even thought about sharing book reviews, I gave every book I read a rating on Goodreads.

The way it works over there, in case you are unfamiliar, is that they allow you to rank one to five stars with no half stars. I changed that for my reviews. I can give books half and even quarter stars. Which makes more sense to me and I wish Goodreads would allow us to do that as well.

Here are what those stars mean:

One Star

Books never get a one star from me. I guess it’s theoretically possible, but I have to really hate it. One stars are reserved for books I straight up hated. But even books I really hate (like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) might get a 2 star.

A one star book is a book with 0 redeeming qualities or something truly terrible within it. Obviously, if a book is racist or something like that, it would probably get a one star, but more likely it won’t get reviewed.

Reading is entirely subjective. Something I hate you might love and that is fine. Because of that, it is really hard for me to rate something one star because there is always something in it that someone might like.

I have been rating books on Goodreads since 2017. In that time, I have given 0 fiction books a one star rating, so I can’t really give examples of what would earn a one star from me, but 20,000 leagues is close.

Two Star

Under my rating system, a one star rating for most people is a two star for me. It’s so hard to get a one star, two stars are the books that I really didn’t like for whatever reason. But almost every book has at least one redeeming quality that makes it a two star.

In the 2 to 2.5 star category, I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t recommend it, but you might still enjoy it if my criticisms didn’t completely turn you off.

A good example of a book in this range would be Wheel of Time book 10, Crossroads of Twilight (or any of the slog). The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway. Kim by Rudyard Kipling. Almost any Charles Dickens book.

In the 2.5 star to 3 star range, those books were almost good. Maybe they had parts I really liked, but overall they fell short. They didn’t work for me for some reason, but if one thing or a couple of things were changed, it would have worked. I still didn’t enjoy them, but I almost did.

Examples of books in this category: Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky. All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders. The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter. To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christoper Paolini (See that review here, in that review I ended up giving it a 1.45, but I think that has cooled in that time sense and I’ve warmed to that book).

Three Star

A three star book is one that is bang-on-average. Parts of it were good, parts of it didn’t work. It had some strong strengths and some weak weaknesses. I would recommend them to some people and I wouldn’t recommend them to others. It’s a decent book.

Books in the 3 to 3.5 star range are really close to average with the weaknesses often being a tad stronger than the strengths. Sure, I liked some things about it, but the weaknesses were a little too much for me to call it a really good book. It was fine, and that’s it.

Examples of books in this category: The Gunslinger by Stephen King. American Gods by Neil Gaiman. The Well of Ascension (book two of the Mistborn trilogy) by Brandon Sanderson.

Books in the 3.5 to 4 range are books that aren’t great, they aren’t spectacular, but the good parts generally outweigh the bad. Sure, there are issues with it, but I still really liked this book and would recommend it to most people. The good things in this book are better than the problems are bad. Some of the problems might not even be that big of a deal.

Examples of books in this category: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov. Dune by Frank Herbert. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus (see review here).

Four Star

These books are great.

It is hard to get a five star from me, so books that I place here might be five star reads for another reviewer. If three stars are average, these are above average books. If three star is good books, four star are great to excellent books. I would recommend a four star book to almost anyone.

A book in the 4.0 to 4.5 star range is a really, really good book but something stops it from being excellent. Normally it isn’t something major. Maybe the author made a style choice I didn’t care for. Maybe one character was really weak. But, all in all, I still really liked this book and I would recommend it.

Examples of books in this category: Foundation by Isaac Asimov. Lion Country by Frederick Buechner. Knife of Dreams by Robert Jordan. Jailbird by Kurt Vonnegut. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. The Institute by Stephen King. Jade City by Fonda Lee (see that review here).

Books in the 4.5 to 5 star range are really fantastic. It is really hard to earn a five star from me. Five star books are reserved for generation defining reads. Books that are the best of the best. The heights of literature. 4.5 to 4 star books are books that are almost that. They are amazing, fantastic, and I would recommend them to almost anyone.

Examples of books in that category: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste NG (see that review here). Mistborn: the Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson (review here). The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan. The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.

Five Stars

It is a little easier to get a five star from me than a one star, but just barely. Five stars is reserved for the elite. I don’t give out five stars to books that I just really liked, even loved, they have to be the top of the top. They are historically renowned books that have, in some cases, changed literature forever.

As you can tell, it is hard to get that from me. It is almost impossible for a recent release to get five stars because part of the test is its ability to stand the test of time. These are the books that are considered the best ever written and I would agree that they deserve that title.

Examples of these books: War and Peace and Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. 1984 by George Orwell. Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut.

Conclusion

I hope that helps you understand a little bit more of where I’m coming from when I review books. I think other reviewers are a little easier to get five stars from and that’s fine. There are books that I have loved that I want to give five stars to, but I can’t because they aren’t the best of the best. Maybe there should be a rank above five stars for those, but there isn’t so far.

Let me know what you think!

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