Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Book Talk: How Do You Determine What to Rate a Book?

I've been giving a lot of thought to book ratings lately, particularly 5 star ratings.  As some of you may have noticed from my reviews, I don't often award 5 stars to the books I read.  For example, I read 91 books last year but only rated 4 of them 5 stars.  While I read many excellent novels last year, all of which I rated 4 or 4.5 stars, I reserve 5 star ratings only for those books that I consider to be truly special, such as those with characters or story lines that I've become more than a little emotionally invested in, or that I just can't stop thinking about.  Simply enjoying a novel isn't enough to garner 5 stars from me, a book has to leave me feeling satisfied that nothing could be done to improve upon it. 

Historical fiction is my favourite genre, as well as being the one I read most often in.  As a result, it also tends to be the genre in which my standards and expectations are highest.  While any book I rate highly, regardless of genre, must be well-written, have well-developed characters and an engaging plot, I generally won't give a work of historical fiction 4 stars or above unless it also satisfies the following two criteria:

(1) The novel must evoke a strong sense of both time and place (I love attention to historical detail); and
(2) The novel must be, to the greatest extent possible, historically accurate.  I don't mind the odd liberty taken for the sake of a story, but major liberties turn me off. 

That's not to say I don't enjoy novels that don't fulfill all of my criteria for great historical fiction, because I do, it's just that my rating of them might be lower (3 to 3.5 stars).  When it comes to the fantasy genre, another favourite of mine, I look for novels that enable me to get completely lost in another world, a world that is so well-built that I have a hard time believing it's not real.  

Recognizing that everyone has different tastes, and that what makes a book a great read for me won't necessarily be the same for other readers, I'd love to know what you consider when determining what  rating to give a book?  What elements must a book have in order for you to rate it 5 stars? 



   

19 comments:

  1. For me a five star book is a book I could not put down, a book that I find myself thinking about long after I have finished reading it, and one that is very well written with strong characters.

    Great post Melissa!

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    1. Thanks, Anne. I feel the same way, any book that I can't stop thinking about (in a good way) is a winner for me

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  2. Ah, ratings.....actually I find them a thorn in my side. I really don't like the rating part of book reviewing and have gone back and forth about eliminating it on my book blog. You see, I only pick up books that intrigue me or that I anticipate will probably be interesting to me. I generally don't go really "out there" and pick up random books to review for publishers. So I approach the novel expecting to like it -- and if I find it has a few faults in plot, characterization, historical accuracy, etc..., I mark it down. I, too, keep 5 star ratings for books that I feel are a unique reading experience and would be something that I would read again in the future. 5 star books are my "keepers."

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    1. I've thought about forgoing start ratings myself, but then I realized I prefer to see them in other reviews so I decided to continue giving them.

      I think one of the things that keeps me from reading a lot of, for lack of a better word, stinkers, is that I also generally only stick to books I pretty much think I'll like. The only review books I accept are those I would probably buy myself anyway.

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  3. I give 5 stars to books that had an extra special "something" for me, though it's hard to say what that is, lol. I know it when I read it. :)

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    1. I also find it hard to really articulate what makes a five star read for me. I have my criteria for historical fiction, but sometimes a book can still have all the things I look for but is lacking the wow factor I need to give a book five stars.

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  4. I give 5 star ratings to books that I really enjoyed for various reasons. I think I given them out easily. I also think I know what books will appeal to me. I'm afraid if I give it a lower ranking, it might discourage people from reading the book.

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    1. For me, I will generally give any book with a plot that interests me a try even if most readers I know, such as fellow bloggers, rate it 3 or 3.5 stars. The only books I tend to stay away from are those that, on average, receive less than 3 stars.

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  5. I give very few books 5 stars - only one last year. I like your criteria for earninga 5 star review though and I think it probably reflects my own feelings as well although I had never really articulated it - it's always been more like Diana said, "I know it when I read it". It's some kind of gut feeling. I also tend to be pretty stingy with 4.5 reviews with most of mine more in the 3.5-4 range. But I also don't have a problem giving out lower ratings if I think it's warranted. It doesn't happen very often though.

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    1. Yes, I'm a "know it when I read it" type, too. But in general the historical fiction books that meet my criteria fit with this. I have a much harder time articulating my five-star ratings for non-historical fiction books.

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  6. I don't give 5 stars often but those just have that WOW-factor. Those are keepers and ones I'll re-read (or try at least) and will stay in my mind long after.

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    1. Yes, the WOW factor is important to me, too. The book with the biggest WOW factor for me lately was Wolf Hall. I know a lot of people didn't enjoy it, but I was beyond impressed with it.

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  8. Great question! I am also VERY sparing with my 5 stars. I usually need the book to have a huge "surprise" factor...no predictability at all. That is very important for me. That, paired with really excellent, well-formed writing. I think this is why I don't give a lot of YA books 5 stars...the story is often great, but because it's written for a younger audience, I usually don't find the writing "literary" enough to warrant that 5th star.

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    1. I agree completely about YA novels. While there are a few YA/kids books I've given 5-stars to (Harry Potter, for example) I mostly stick with a 4 star rating if I really enjoyed it.

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  9. The "wow" factor is a good way of describing it. I give very few 5-star ratings, only for books I felt were superb, in a different class from the rest, and which I had trouble putting down. I wish Goodreads allowed for half stars. That and LibraryThing are the only places where I give stars at all

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    1. I wish GoodReads (and Shelfari, which is where I'm active) allowed half-stars, too.

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  10. I don't give very many 5 star ratings either. Last year I gave 2 for the whole year.

    I have ummed and ahed about ratings in my blogging years. I had them and then I didn't and now I do again, but it is so subjective. Just recently I gave my first 5 star for the year but if I were to assign the rating now it would be a 4.5 book. Having said that, I do like seeing rating on other people's reviews simply because it gives an instant guide to how they felt about a particular book!

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    1. That's my reasoning for keeping star ratings, too, Marg. I like to see them. I also find that I go back and forth on ratings. There are tons of books that I read several years ago, when I was a little bit more generous with my ratings, that, upon reflection, I'd change now.

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