In my first years as an avid reader, I gave quite a few books 5 stars. That being said, I’ve noticed that with time I’ve become a bit more critical with my reviews. Not only that, I’ve also learned what I like and what I don’t like in books so I’m not as easily influenced by other people’s opinions, which would happen to me a lot and cause me to rate novels higher than I probably should have.
So, after 4 years of being a bookwork, I can finally answer the question: what does a book need for me to rate it 5 stars?
First of all, characters are really important. I don’t want to read a story where I don’t care about the characters because, that way, there are no stakes and, in my opinion, virtually no reason for me to read the book to begin with. Now, the characters don’t need to be likeable (although that certainly helps), BUT I need to like them. This might sound contradictory, but take Vicious by V. E. Schwab as an example. The protagonists, Victor, and Eli are far from being classified as “good” people – they are both ruthless and have done horrible things. Nonetheless, I still like them because they’re very complex and you get see the reasoning behind their actions.
Speaking of, if the characters, especially the main ones, are as bland as a slice of white bread, that immediately makes me rate a book lower. I think that’s even worse than having characters I don’t like since, at least that way, I can still discuss what I don’t like about their personality. However, if they don’t have one, there’s not much to talk about.
Something else that is definitely a plus is if I can relate to any of the characters. Surprisingly, it’s not often that I find a character that I really see myself in so when I do, it’s always a bonus for me. One example of this is Cody, the protagonist of Late to the Party, one of my favourite books that I’ve read this year. In my review I literally wrote “Codi is me. I’m Codi” – it just made me love the book even more.
I’m not the kind of reader who is attracted to overly lyrical and flowery writing. Usually when I hear either of those two words, I tend to be a bit more hesitant to pick up that book because in my mind it means: lyrical writing = hard to read = it will take a million years to finish = I don’t want to read it anymore. That being said, it’s all about balance and execution. Reading about all the different green shades of a tree leaf that’s in the background of a scene is undoubtedly too much for me. On the other hand, it’s also not super pleasant to read a book and feel like the author either didn’t give a crap about how it was written or has very poor writing kills.
What I mean by execution is this: you can tell when an author is trying too hard to make their writing beautiful and stand-out. For instance, it definitely felt that way in The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue with all the confusing and silly metaphors. An author that totally nailed this though is Laini Taylor in the Strange the Dreamer duology – it’s more than clear that she has a gift for writing as eveything flows really nicely.
Some people don’t mind if a book has virtually no plot as long as they are invested in the character. Although I can see where they’re coming from, I need at least something substantial to happen – it doesn’t need to be super action packed or anything but just enough to keep me engaged. Tweet Cute does this flawlessly – it has the perfect pacing and just the right amount of things happened to make me want to keep reading.
You know those books that basically carve a place in your heart and your mind and then you just can’t stop thinking about them? THOSE are my kind of books. If a story and its characters are living in my mind rent free, then I know that book is a new favourite (that sometimes is also true for books I don’t like but it’s rare). Also, if a book has made me cry or was really thought-provoking, there’s a much higher change I’ll rate it 5 stars – it’s not guaranteed though!
Our world is full of beautifully different people and when I read a book I want it to reflect that. Of course, you can’t have every type of representation out there in one single story, but at least have a few characters that aren’t white, cisgender and straight. I’m gonna have to mention Late to the Party again
sorryyyy because Kelly Quindlen did an amazing job at including a very diverse cast of characters without it feeling forced. Sometimes authors seem to include minorities simply to appear “woke” and it comes across as if they were just checking off a list. You can tell that is the case when those characters turn out to be very underveloped and just there to help the white, cishet MC continue their story. Obviously, I also very much value representation that isn’t related to race, gender or sexuality as that’s equally as important!
A little side note: just because a book isn’t diverse doesn’t necessarily make me rate it lower, but it does make a difference and I always really appreciate it when that’s not the case.
What makes YOU rate a book five stars? Let me know in the comments!
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