I read the work of other reviewers, and am often bemused at the disparity in rating standards. Obviously, despite the guidelines posted at Net Galley, Goodreads and various other places, there are a wide variety of opinions as to what books are bad enough to receive a one or two star review, and what a book must have to merit five. I’ve thought about it a lot over the years I’ve been rating and reviewing books, and more so since this blog has been up and running. Here is where I landed:
***** A 5 star book represents the very best of books within its genre. Thus, Gary Larson’s epic Far Side cartoon collection can have 5 stars, even though it doesn’t measure up to the timeless work of Shakespeare. To limit 5 star reviews to works of historical grandeur is unfair to current writers, especially since none of us really knows which among them will be remembered well a hundred years from now. A 5 star review is also not a default, wherein something has to go wrong not to achieve it. 5 stars should be a distinction that its recipients can be proud of, not a sycophantic gesture to placate the publishers that provide DRC’s.
****4 stars actually is, more or less, my default for books that are good. A 4 star book is a recommended purchase for those that buy a fair number of books, or who are looking for book-as-escape. When I worked full time as a teacher, I often bought 4 star books in paperback and was happy I had done so.
***I have read that authors dread a 3 star review, and this impacts my rating system, I will admit. A 3 star book has nothing deeply wrong with it, or if it does, it also has so much merit in another way that I can’t drop the rating to 2 stars. It may be a serviceable but damn dull book, or it may be a book that is only going to be worthwhile to a fairly narrow niche. Unless you belong to that target audience, I don’t recommend paying full jacket price for a 3 star book.
**There’s trouble in a 2 star book. Dear heaven. A 2 star book is one that makes me wonder what it is doing in the marketplace. If it’s nonfiction, it may be badly organized or have incorrect information that I can spot without deliberately searching for flaws. It may be a fictional work, self-published, where the end is rushed and a “to be continued” replaces the story’s resolution. NO. Put your money away unless you are already deeply committed to this author.
* For the life of me I do not understand reviewers that rate an author’s work as 1 star and then offer no explanation. Anyone that writes knows this is just a mean thing to do, and actually, even those that just review should intuit it. My 1 star reviews are limited to those that are simply unreadable, which usually means self-publication with no real knowledge of basic grammar or punctuation. For this reason, I no longer accept unsolicited manuscripts. A 1 star rating is given to a book that is hopelessly disorganized, or blatantly offensive, either due to outrageously racist content or some other aspect which I carefully delineate in my review. I also rate 1 star for anything that seems to be a ripoff, such as taking content already published in a variety of places and stringing it together in a way that isn’t meaningful. In short, a book has to be truly terrible to earn this rating from me.
—No stars: I don’t do this. I know some bloggers do, but I don’t want to leave the impression that I have forgotten to rate a book. If there are no stars on a review title, it’s an error on my part.