32 comments on “What Makes a 5-Star Book?

  1. A book is five stars in my book when I can’t leave it behind when I put it down. When I can’t stop thinking about it, when it sticks with me, for happy reasons or not. 5 stars measures impact for me.

    • The “can’t stop thinking about it” factor is definitely something that’s common to all my 5-star reads… but not only 5-star reads.

  2. I tried using a rubric for a while (and I still do on ARCs), but it seemed like everything ended up scoring higher than I would have had I just rated using my gut.

    I’d look at something and think “wait, how did that end up with 4.4 stars, I didn’t enjoy it that much, did I?”

    • I’ve thought about using a rubric, but I just don’t think it could work for me. I guess it could be a good way to pinpoint what worked for me and what didn’t, but I couldn’t use it to calculate a final rating. A book is more (or sometimes less) than the sum of its parts.

  3. I am probably too generous with my five-stars, but I don’t mind. I like a lot of things, and it isn’t necessarily about their literary quality all the time.

    Usually, if I really liked a book, I’ll 5 star it. If there was something that disappointed me, it’ll usually go down to four stars. But I don’t have many 2 or 3 starred books often, usually there would be a lot of things that disappointed me. 1 or 2 stars is that I basically didn’t enjoy it at all, except for little snippets (The Forest of Hands and Teeth was like that recently).

    I like your reasons for giving 5 stars, I think they are very valid, even if they are a bit vague. It’s so hard to quantify books, because they all hit us in different ways.

    • Yeah, my 5-star ratings are pretty much never about the literary quality. They’re all about how I respond to the book. And like you said, books hit us all in different ways. I’ve had people flabbergasted by some of the books I’ve given 3- or 4-star ratings compared to the books on my 5-star list. But I’m really rating my reaction to the book more than the book itself.

  4. Wow, looking at Goodreads, I’ve given three times as many 1 star ratings as 5 star ratings… For me a five star book is one I’m going to read again, a book that has firmly planted itself in my head and will affect the way I think and write. Which means that I have a tendency to modify ratings occasionally. There are many books that are 4.5, but might move up if they “prove out” over time.

    • I’m glad that I have fewer 1-star ratings than 5-stars… although, had I not started DNF’ing, that might not be the case! I also reevaluate my ratings, and there have been a few 4-star books that I later realize they deserve that fifth star.

  5. I think a 5-star rating has a lot to do with the right book at the right time. But I also agree with “makes me forget I’m reading a book”. I love that feeling.

    • That feeling is one of the reasons I read! I don’t even notice it when I’m in it, but it’s when I come out of it and realize what a hold the book just had on me… there are few things in life that grab me like that.

  6. I think 5 star books for me are so enjoyable I can imagine myself looking forward to re-reading it (having the time to do that is another story!) I feel like I have a strong emotional connection with 5 star books. And I’m like you in that if the ending was amazing I can forget about whatever little things bothered me in the beginning.

    1 star is easier for me – it’s a book I didn’t even want to finish. And usually I don’t so I rarely give 1 star ratings. It is so hard sometimes to decided what ratings to give though, it seems like your mood at the time sometimes factors in and it would be nice to think that the ratings you give books are consistent.

    • Yes, I know my mood can definitely affect how I respond to a book, which is why none of my ratings are ever set in stone. But I think that’s another reason why I prefer the “vague” ratings without getting into fractions of a star; the less precise it is, the less likely it’s going to change over time. I don’t like all of my 3-star books the same, obviously, but I can look at any of them and say, “Oh yeah, this is a 3-star book,” even though one day it might be close to a 4 and another day it might be more like a 2.5.

  7. If I finish a book and feel that it’s worthy of a reread (I’m not a big rereader) then that’s usual the difference between a 4 and a 5 star rating. A 4-star book is a really great book (I rate way too many books a 4, I’m a bit fickle) but if that 4-star would warrant a reread, no matter how far in the future, then that’s a 5-star. Or if I feel like I’m going to be thinking about the book for a very long time after finishing it then that may also become a 5-star read.

    I don’t recall rating a book 1-star before, I feel like you have to finish it to give it a rating and if a book is that bad I probably won’t take the time to even finish it.

    • I agree, I won’t rate a book if I didn’t finish it. But as for the re-read, I really can’t use that as a factor because I like to re-read books. Just because I want to re-read it doesn’t mean it’s not a 4… or even a 3.

  8. I don’t give out tons of five star reviews either. To get five stars the book needs to be perfect or nearly perfect. I look at character building, world building, pacing consistency, etc.

    • See, it’s so hard to say “perfect” because what is perfect? I guess you could argue that all of my 5-star books were perfect for me.

  9. A five star book for me is one that makes me feel excited and where I don’t want to put the book down. And another criteria for me is that I’ll re-read it in the future. Asking myself will I re-read is a make or break 5 star question for me. And not all 5 stars books are excellent but they are books that drew me in and held me in place for the duration and they just moved me. Gah! It’s impossible to explain :)

    • Re-reading is another of those “all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares” criteria for me. I definitely want to re-read all my 5-star books… but not all books that I want to re-read get 5 stars. It really is impossible, isn’t it!

  10. I agree, it’s hard to explain. Most often it’s just the gut feeling. And as you say, it’s when you forget that you are reading – in such cases, the book is usually also well-written, I mean in the way that the writing doesn’t interfere with the reading, that is simply fades into a veil through which you simply walk into another world. Although, sometimes I give a 5-star rating just because of something in the book really touches some part of me, even though if I went about it in a more ‘objective’, analytical way and properly took into an account all the aspects of the book I wouldn’t give it five stars. So, yes, mostly it’s that feeling when I put the book down and something in it touched me in the way that I know I’ll remeber that book for years to come, even if I don’t reread it.

    • I love your definition of well-written. A lot of books that other people might call “well-written” are trying to do too much and it keeps me from reaching that point where I can completely lose myself in the book.

  11. I don’t use ratings on my blog, but I do in Goodreads. I just hate to put books into categories of goodness, and even struggle with some in Goodreads by adding half stars in the comments. I will say that it can be helpful when I write my end-of-year post with my favorites of the year. Some 5 stars make the list and have even had 4 star books make the list. It just depends!

    I will say though that I recently rated a book 5 stars on Goodreads because the ending nailed it! It was one of the most satisfying endings I could ask for. The only other reason I would add is the effect a book has on you at a specific time in your life. Some books are just read at the right time. They leave you with a feeling that you can now move on. If I had read that specific book at any other time of life, it may not have worked the way it did. Does that even make sense?

    • It absolutely makes sense! I think the most accurate rating system would have to be, not just moving along a single axis like our 1-5 does, but some sort of three-dimensional thing that I can’t even conceptualize. There are just SO many factors that go into how much I enjoy a book… as much or even more to do with me than the book itself. I can’t blame readers who don’t like to assign ratings. But for me, I can’t imagine not, even as vague and imperfect as they are.

  12. I have to agree with you on the ending being important. I wish I could find the interview where one of my favorite authors Kate Morton spoke about endings, but it’s currently eluding me — the gist of it was that the ending of a book has to be “right,” not that it has to be happy (or devastating), but that it has to do the story justice. I love that description and it honestly is what I look for in book endings — when an ending doesn’t feel “right,” it overshadows the whole rest of the book for me.

    For me, I think the common thread of my 5-star reads are that I want to re-read them. That’s rather vague and relies a lot of feelings and emotions, but every single 5-star book I’ve rated is one I would love to read again, if only I could find the time!

    • Oh, absolutely on the endings. Happy or sad doesn’t matter, but it should be satisfying. And in some books, the “right” and satisfying ending is one that would be completely unsatisfying in another book. It’s all about serving the story (or should be, anyway). Of course, people will always have different opinions on what that ending should be… even if they think they’re just thinking about the story and putting their own preferences aside.

  13. You are spot on with your qualifiers, especially the first “forgetting you’re reading a book” one. I LOVE when that happens! I’m not very serious about rating books, I probably wouldn’t if it weren’t for Goodreads and 50BookPledge having those in place. I don’t rate books on my blog in posts about them.

    Maybe another qualifier for me would be “cannot stop thinking about it”—as in, I’m at work and all I want to do is rush home and get back to reading it. Wake up on a Saturday, first thing I need to do is read it. Get kind of grumpy if I didn’t have a chance to read the book all day. Etc.!

    • Yeah, that first one is just the best, isn’t it? But still, it doesn’t always mean it’s a 5-star book. It’s a major step in the right direction, but there are books that make me lose myself but don’t give me that 5-star feeling. Thanks for reading!

  14. Completely agree with your list. And I rate with my heart, too – can’t help it. If a book speaks to me, touches me, gives me genuine emotion, moves me, gives me beautiful language and characters I can’t stop thinking about…that’s usually a 5-star. But it really changes, depending on the day, my mood – crap, even the weather.

    I suppose I could try to be more fair…but I read with my heart, so I guess it’s only fair to rate and review that way, as well.

    • Yup, I’ve always felt like I’m rating my reaction to the book more than the book itself, but I suppose what I’m really rating is that particular read-through of the book, though I’ve never quite thought of it that way before.

  15. Like you, it’s all in my heart. I can rationalize in my head a million reasons for why a book might not be “worth” 5 stars, but at the end of the day, it’s all about how a book made me feel. Sometimes my head is telling me that everything was great and that I should rate something 5 stars, but my heart just won’t let me. It’s a gut-feeling, that like you said, is hard to put in words. But I think the reasons you gave are a great guideline! Haha

    • Yes! It goes both ways. How can I give a classic like To Kill a Mockingbird only 3 stars, and yet fluffy chick lit I’ve Got Your Number is 5 stars? And then there’s The Princess Bride, which I gave 4 stars, even though I consider it one of my favorite books. I even re-read it recently, and yup, still only 4 stars. For as much as I love about it, it just doesn’t “feel” like a 5-star book.

  16. I definitely rate with my heart. A good ending is very important to me too, and I think in general that if a book surprises me and feels new and different (not just in the ending, but throughout), I’m more likely to give a higher rating. When I rate something five stars, I generally mean that I want to keep that book. I want to reread it and experience it again later in my life.

    • So often books feel like they are just telling the same stories again and again that it’s nice to read something with a different take. Then again, there’s comfort in the familiar when it’s done well.

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