I’ve shied away from using star ratings in my reviews for a long time. My issue has always been that I don’t quite know how to use them. To me, a 5-star review had signified a book that was truly exceptional and well-written, regardless of how I might feel about it as an individual reader. Stars, in my mind, signified how good a book was, not how much I enjoyed it. So I was (and honestly I continue to be) utterly baffled by the fact that Sarah J. Maas books have higher Goodreads ratings than Jane Austen books. I mean...come on?! And then I realized that basically everyone else was using star ratings to signify how good a book was to them. It was personal. This realization made me give up on star ratings because I was constantly stressed out about whether I should assign them based on how much I liked a book or how good the book is.
But I also realize that a lot of readers make their decisions about what books to purchase or check out from the library based on the star ratings of their trusted recommendation sources. As much as assigning stars to a book stresses me out, I would hate for a reader to forego a favorite of mine because I didn’t crown it with five stars.
After mulling over all of this, I decided to try star ratings again. But I can’t in good faith just base them on how much I liked a book or what it made me feel. The English teacher in my has to take into account the writing and pacing and structure. So here’s a breakdown of what star ratings mean to me. I’ll be using these in wrap-ups and reviews going forward in the hope that it helps you find and read more books that you love.
Five Stars | A five star read to me has it all: the book is expertly crafted or structurally innovative AND it speaks to essential themes. A five star read should make me think and feel deeply while also dazzling me as a literary work. Five star books sound like they should be rarities, but I’ve gotten pretty good at choosing my books so they’re more common than you might think!
Four Stars | A four star read is either exceptionally well written or profoundly speaks to me in some way, but doesn’t do both. It may be a book that teaches me a lot or is an emotional gut-punch, and the writing is solid but not excellent. Or it could be a book where the writing soars, but emotionally or thematically the book failed to connect with me.
Three Stars | A three star read is a book I enjoyed. A lot of books end up around here for me, and I always worry that readers think this means I didn’t like a book. Three star books are entertaining and satisfying reads. They may not resonate deeply or include writing that sparkles, but I thoroughly enjoy the reading experience. These are the books that I like, but I know that, for whatever reason, they won’t really stick with me.
Two Stars | A two star read was fine to poor. There were elements of the book that I enjoyed, but overall didn’t find it satisfying or compelling. It’s rare for me to finish a book if I’m feeling “meh” about it, but occasionally I do push past those initial impressions. Two star reviews are for the occasions when my initial impressions were right.
One Star | A one star read is a book that wasn’t good but I was compelled to finish it for some reason. Maybe the plot hooked me or I had to find out what happened to a particular character, but otherwise the book was poorly done, flat, or problematic. Likely a one star review means I “hate read” the book, which has been known to happen on occasion.