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?