Discussion: Writing Reviews – What My Star Ratings Mean to Me



Do you ever find yourself overthinking what rating to give a book you’ve just finished reading?  Usually the rating comes to me pretty easily, but there are definitely times when I find it hard to settle on one.  It always gets me into that deep thought mode where I really start to think about what those star ratings even mean for me.  What makes a book a 5 star rating vs. a 4 star?  If I rate a book 3 stars, what am I really trying to say about that book?  If I was able to finish a book I didn’t particularly care for, how low does it make sense to rate it?  Should I even rate a book I didn’t finish? What would it take for me to actually rate a book only 1 star? Yep, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, I tend to overthink things a bit.

For me, I think the easiest ratings to settle on are the 4 star reads.  I give 4 stars to any book that I really enjoyed. If the writing is good, the characters are dynamic and complex, and the plot is interesting, you can pretty much count on me giving at least 4 stars.  I looked on Goodreads and I think the majority of the books I’ve reviewed over the years have been 4 star reads.

So if a good book is at least 4 stars, what does it take for me to award 5 stars?  These are usually pretty easy for me as well because for me, it’s an emotional reaction.  Is this a good book or a book that really blew me away?  Did it make me cry, or better yet, was it an emotional roller coaster ride for me?  For me, the 5 star reads really resonate.  They tend to be the stories that stick with me long after I’ve finished reading.  I’ve also gotten stingier over the years about giving out 5 star ratings and have a tendency to award many more 4.5 ratings than actual 5s. More and more I feel like those 5 star ratings should be saved for books that I think are really special.

The 3 star rating is the one I struggle with the most.  Why?  Because I actually kind of hate it.  Even though in my mind, 3 stars indicates that I liked the book but didn’t love it, it still feels like I’m really just sitting on the fence and not stating a firm opinion on the book. Looking back through my ratings over the years, I actually seem to choose one side of the fence or the other.  Rather than give a lot of 3 star ratings, I instead tend to go with either 3.5 stars or 2.5 stars.  Either I lean toward liking it, or I lean toward it not being a good fit for me.

I usually reserve 2 star ratings for books that I was able to finish but that just weren’t my cup of tea. I’ve actually not had many of these over the years. I seem to have either gotten pretty good at picking out books that work for me or else I’ve gotten better about DNFing books that aren’t working. I don’t rate books that I’ve DNFed unless I made it to at least the halfway point.

1 star ratings are pretty easy for me too, mainly just because I rarely, if ever, give them.  I think I would have to have an extremely negative emotional reaction to a book to actually slap a 1 on it and that just doesn’t usually happen.  As I mentioned, I don’t tend to rate books I DNF and if I am able to finish a book even if it’s not a good fit for me, I feel like the fact it was compelling enough to finish ought to allow for at least a 2 star rating.

What I also find interesting is that as I’m reading, I do find that I assign a tentative rating as I’m going along and kind of adjust it up or down as I go, depending on how much I’m connecting with the story.  So sometimes a book starts off slow and feels like it could be a 2, but then it starts to pick up and the ending feels like a 5 star.  I ponder those for a while and usually settle on some kind of average like maybe a 3.5 overall.

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So, what about you?  Do you find yourself thinking about what your star ratings mean?  Do you struggle with certain star ratings more than others?

42 replies
  1. Jonetta (Ejaygirl) | Blue Mood Café
    Jonetta (Ejaygirl) | Blue Mood Café says:

    Suzanne, it’s like I was reading my own script for book rating! I do veer a little on 1 & 2 stars. I reserve 1 star ratings for a DNF (I only have one!) and 2 stars for books I finished and really disliked. I also struggle with the perceptions around a 3 star rating even though it’s a book I liked but didn’t love.

    Thanks for sharing your system💜

  2. Tammy @ Books, Bones & Buffy
    Tammy @ Books, Bones & Buffy says:

    Yes to all of this! My rating system is very similar to yours, and I feel I’m sometimes inconsistent. I think that’s why so many bloggers are going in the “no star ratings” direction. I can usually tell from the beginning if a book is going to get 5 stars at the end. And I really hate writing negative reviews, but sometimes you have to. I think I’ve only given one 1 star rating on my blog and honestly the book was so bad it deserved it. And lately I’ve been giving tons of 4 1/2 ratings😁

    • Suzanne
      Suzanne says:

      I’ve not given out many 1s either. The no star method is tempting, although i guess I just like to have the star there for those who just want a quick – did I like it or hate it.

  3. Aj @ Read All The Things!
    Aj @ Read All The Things! says:

    I don’t think I struggle with ratings, but I do wish Goodreads had half stars. Sometimes 3 is too little and 4 is too much. For me, 3 stars is average. That’s my most common rating. Five stars is a new favorite book. I don’t often give out 5 stars. I also don’t give 1 star very often. If a book is that bad, I DNF it and don’t rate it.

  4. ShootingStarsMag
    ShootingStarsMag says:

    Like A.J. I wish Goodreads did half stars. They really need to get on it. I don’t rate every single book I read, and I don’t use them a lot for my reviews on the blog, but since I’ve been using Goodreads more, I do see myself rating more often there. Most of my books are 4 stars. I’m pretty good at judging if I’ll like a book or not. 3 stars can be tough because it looks like I didn’t really like the book, when that’s not necessarily the case – it’s usually aspects I didn’t like, etc.


  5. Brittany
    Brittany says:

    That is interesting that 3 stars are the hardest rating for you. For me 3 books are just “meh” I didn’t really like them but I didn’t hate them either. They are just middle of the road. 2 stars is the rating I give least often. If I hate a book I give it a 1. For some reason most books I read never seem to fall inbetween “hate” and “meh” I’m kind of all or nothing there. (which is weird because I use a 4 star rating all the time and it is halfway between “Love” and “meh” )

    • Suzanne
      Suzanne says:

      4 definitely seems to be the one people use the most, well at least those who have commented on this post anyway, lol.

  6. Angela
    Angela says:

    I don’t struggle too much with my ratings. I kind of have a good idea, even pretty early on in the book, what I would rate a particular book. I don’t give one star ratings. If I finish a book and didn’t really care for it, I give it two stars, just like you. I think my average rating on Goodreads is around 3.5, so I guess I give a lot of 3 and 4 star reviews. Three to me means just average, liked but not loved, would probably recommend but with a caveat.

    • Suzanne
      Suzanne says:

      I’m not sure what my average GR rating is at the moment, but I’d guess probably somewhere in the 3.5 star range.

  7. Kristen @ Metaphors and Moonlight
    Kristen @ Metaphors and Moonlight says:

    I have the problem of agonizing over ratings all the darn time because I don’t have any one set of explanations for what the ratings mean to me. So sometimes I’ll finish a book and be like, “I liked it more than this book I gave 3 stars to, but it wasn’t as good as this book I gave 3.5 stars to,” and basically I’ve got books within the same rating that I have wildly different feelings about lol.

    Like you I give more 4.5 than 5, though I round up anyway (not sure if you do). 5 stars might be the easiest for me because those are the books that just absolutely blow me away and make me feel kind of giddy because of how much I’m loving them. I just know when a book is 5 stars. And 1-star, I have to really hate a book for that lol, in which case I usually just don’t bother to review it.

    • Suzanne
      Suzanne says:

      I wish Goodreads had half stars because I think one of my biggest internal debates is whether to round up or down when I’m waffling between 2 ratings. I don’t think there’s any rhyme or reason as to which way I choose to go, although a book that gets to my emotions usually tends to be one I’ll round up more so than say, a thriller.

  8. Greg
    Greg says:

    I pretty much agree. 4 stars to me are an exceptional books- one that I REALLY liked and would recommend wholeheartedly. 5 stars are pretty rare and are my absolute favorites.

    I’m the same way with 3 stars. Your comment “I seem to have either gotten pretty good at picking out books that work for me or else I’ve gotten better about DNFing books that aren’t working.” kinda sums up how I feel too! The majority of my reads are 3 stars. Rarely I’ll give 2. But yeah usually for me a 3 star is a book I liked or really liked, a solid read, maybe some minor issues, but nothing too drastic.

    • Suzanne
      Suzanne says:

      Yeah, 1s and 2s are so rare for me. I can’t decide if I’m just better at picking what I’ll have a good chance of liking or maybe that since I’ve been blogging and reading so many reviews, maybe I’m just getting better all around recs from people.

  9. Shelleyrae @ Book’d Out
    Shelleyrae @ Book’d Out says:

    We share similar ratings… for me I don’t rate books I DNF, I give 1 star to books I finished but didn’t like (so far I think only Eat Pray Love) 2 stars is OK but there may have been an element that let it down, 3 stars means it was a good read but didn’t really stand out, 4 stars means there was something about it that stood out, and 5 stars, well its pretty self explanatory. Most of what I read falls into 3.5 I think, but I round up or down on Goodreads depending.
    LibraryThing uses 1/2 stars, since its Amazon owned as well, you would think it wouldn’t be too complicated for Goodreads to adopt it.

  10. Jessica at Booked J
    Jessica at Booked J says:

    I love this topic! It’s always so interesting to see the scale others use. I always, always overthink my ratings. It’s really an all the time thing, even with books that I love. I think I just am an overthinking in general. Anyways, I agree with 4 stars being the easiest rating/conclusion to come to when it comes to books that are enjoyable. I think my average on Goodreads is around 3.8 or something so I definitely lean into 3-4 star ratings a lot as a standard.

    Thanks for sharing! I really enjoyed reading this.

  11. Sam@wlabb
    Sam@wlabb says:

    The bulk of my books fall into the 4 star range. I am pretty good at picking books I think I will enjoy, AND you know, I don’t rate DNFs. For me to finish a book, I have to think it’s at least good, which in my book equates to 3 stars.

    • Suzanne
      Suzanne says:

      Yeah, I definitely feel like I’ve gotten better over the years at knowing what I’ll like and what I won’t. I have a few misfires now and then but nowhere near as many as I used to.

  12. Verushka
    Verushka says:

    I stopped rating my books bc I was so torn about what to put as ratings. I really ought to start doing those again! But for me, anything above 3 or 3.5 is a book that sticks with me, that creeps me out or has an fabulous twist or has me laughing so hard I want to tell everyone about it — that’s my 4 and very rarely 5 star reads. 3.5 is a good book, a good read for me. Anything lower is just okay.

  13. Sophie
    Sophie says:

    I have explained my rating on my blog but yes I react with my guts and feelings and the 3 stars are the most difficult for me to write!

  14. Kimberly @ Caffeinated Reviewer
    Kimberly @ Caffeinated Reviewer says:

    I feel the same about 4 stars. It was good, I loved it, if it was a series I will continue etc. 3 and 3.5 are good but I might not remember anything about them 6 months from now they were average or a solid library read. 2’s are books that had issues, I rarely have 1’s anymore because I DNF now. 5’s are going on my bookshelf usually hardcover.

  15. Flora
    Flora says:

    Great post, Suzanne. You’re right there are a lot of book bloggers out there who’ve stopped giving star ratings.

    I use the Goodreads system:
    1 star I didn’t like it (these are usually the ones I downloaded because they were free or were ARCs given to me by an author)
    2 stars it was OK (I finished it but it wasn’t my cup of tea, again these seem to be the freebies, either what I download from Amazon or are ARCs from authors and Netgalley)
    3 stars (it was good and I enjoyed reading it but not enough to want to read again or continue with the series, etc)
    4 stars (I really liked this it has most of what I look for in an engaging story, it kept me reading, I’d recommend it and would read other books by the author/series)
    5 stars (I loved it couldn’t put it down, would read it again and will shout on the rooftops to get everyone to read it)

  16. Olivia (Vinjii)
    Olivia (Vinjii) says:

    I struggle a lot with star ratings. I’m really stingy with five stars, because they’re some sort of: must be perfect rating. And sometimes I give a book five stars, then realise I’ve only given 15 books five stars in 35 years, then go back and knock a star off. Secretly. Like the little weird person I am.
    My favourite rating is 4. I really liked this. I highly recommend this!
    Three is my solid but meh rating. It’s usually reserved for books that I liked less but I’m aware are well crafted or have an important place in literature etc.
    I usually do not hand out any ones, and my 2 star rating means I really did not like the book.

  17. RO
    RO says:

    As always, another great post, and so true. I don’t review anymore, but you’re right, some of those ratings can be tough, particularly when it’s middle of the road. At one time I was only reading erotic romance, and can only remember giving out about 6 “5 star ratings, and they are definitely some of the ones i ended up re-reading because they were such great stories. Hugs and Happy Tuesday! RO

  18. lisa thomson
    lisa thomson says:

    Interesting topic! My rating system is similar to yours, Suzanne. I don’t typically rate a dnf. I had to take a quick look at my read book list on Goodreads to see if I had given many 1 and 2 star ratings LOL. I have given a few 2 stars. Lately, I’ve been really enjoying the books I read and haven’t rated under 3 or 4 for quite some time. I usually add in my reasons for the star rating within my text review. I give a 5 star rating to books I know I’ll want to read again. That’s the test for me. If I tell myself, I’m glad I bought this book and I’ll be reading this again in the future, then I know it was perfect, at least for me.

    Also, non-fiction, self help genre is easier to rate. Did it help me? Yes!—5 stars. yes— 4 stars, Kind of—3 stars, A bit—2 stars, Hardly at all—1 star.

  19. Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction
    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction says:

    I’m definitely an overthinker too. The worst is when I try to compare how I’ve rated books. I feel like I’m not necessarily as consistent as I want to be (or maybe my feelings just change over time?). I agree that 4-star books seem the easiest to pin down. I try not to think about it too much or I’ll drive myself crazy!!

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