a bookish life · books · reviews

Re-evaluating My Rating System

Rating a book can be confusing. I can like and dislike wildly different elements of two books and yet the overall rating ends up the same. At the same time, there are a few things in books that almost always result in my star rating being lowered. And, the things that make me instantly dislike a book could be the reason another reader loves it.

At the end of the day, the same 5 star rating system the majority of reviewers use is a highly personal and subjective measurement used to roughly gauge a person’s abstract enjoyment of a book. Judgements are then made on a book’s worth based on its average rating on Goodreads, the number of stars it received from a popular Booktuber, and whether someone with a similar taste in books to you rated it 5 stars.

Yet, what defines 4 stars, and what leads a reviewer to rate it 4 stars, cannot be standardised.

My current rating system is what could be defined as ‘wishy-washy’. It’s mostly based on my feelings about a book immediately after I’ve finished it. I then write my review to justify that rating — as if I’m going to be subject to a panel of book bloggers fiercely questioning me as to why I gave X book 3.5 stars!

My reviews justify my rating, rather than my review leading to an overall rating that reflects it.

Back to my current system: my criteria for each star are vague; I’ve started adding in half-stars in some cases and I don’t really know what the added value is of that ‘half star’; and I literally never refer back to them when writing a review or rating a book.

So, I’m throwing my current rating system out of the window, and starting again! This post is about to get very long and, if I’m being completely honest, has been made mostly for my benefit rather than for anyone else’s, so I won’t blame people for not wanting to scroll through this entire post! So, in summary, I am:

  • Removing half stars.
  • Keeping my 6 star rating, which I use to differentiate my all-time favourite books from my regular 5 stars.
  • Creating a new rating system from 6 stars down to DNF (as opposed to 1 star) where there is *hopefully* a clear scale downwards as my ratings get lower.
  • My ratings are still based on the main features of overall sense of love/enjoyment, plot line, writing style, multidimensional characters, likelihood to recommend and likelihood to read more of an author’s work.
  • I have added a couple of quintessential examples next to all of my new star ratings.

Here is my ‘current’ (it’s about 8 months old) rating ‘system’ (I think it’s a disservice to systems to call this one):

★★★★★★

My all-time favourite books and deserving of an extra star!

★★★★★

I absolutely loved this book and would definitely recommend it! I would happily reread it! I loved the writing, plot, and characters, with only very minor or no negatives!

★★★★

I loved this book, but it was missing something! It could be an issue with a character, something I didn’t like or felt it was lacking in some way, which prevents it from being a 5 star. I would recommend it to others and would happily read the author’s other works.

★★★

I didn’t love this book but I still enjoyed it! It is usually the case that I didn’t enjoy some aspect of the book, such as the writing style or the plot fell flat. I wouldn’t recommend it to others unless I felt there was a particular reason that I didn’t like it that wouldn’t prevent others from enjoying it. I would still recommend it, but it wouldn’t be something I suggested often.

★★

I really disliked this book and it was just not for me. I struggled to finish it, and I probably won’t attempt another book by this author. I wouldn’t recommend it to others, unless I felt there was a particular reason that I didn’t like it that wouldn’t prevent others from enjoying it.


These ‘definitions’ just don’t reflect the way I rate and review books anymore.

To me, the system below is a much more concrete, lengthier, and shows a clear continuation as ratings become higher (or lower). It uses criteria that more accurately reflects the way I rate and review books, and will hopefully be helpful when I’m ever unsure of how I felt about a book.

My New Rating System:

★★★★★ (all-time favourites)

  • These books are everything that a 5 star read is, but with that even greater sense of love and attachment, which makes them all-time favourites
  • This is the hardest rating to define, as often favourites are based on ‘gut-feeling’ and each book will have a different reason for being an all-time favourite
  • The author becomes an ‘auto-buy’ author, in which I have a desire to go out and buy all of an author’s existing work and will continue to buy/pre-order their future releases

Quintessential examples – Red, White and Royal Blue, The Starless Sea

★★★★★

  • An overall sense of love for the book
  • A complex, interesting plotline that I thoroughly enjoyed (including character-driven plots)
  • A great writing style
  • Intricate, multi-dimensional characters that felt fully-developed and I grew to love over the course of the novel
  • Well-developed subplots and ‘twists’ that felt genuine, rather than for the sake of a shock-factor or purely to drive the plot
  • A book that I would happily recommend to everyone (obviously dependent on age/explicit content etc.)
  • The author becomes someone I would recommend to others, and I will look out for and likely buy more of their work
  • A book that I would definitely re-read at some point

Quintessential examples – The Nightingale, Idle Hands

★★★★

  • An overall sense of thorough enjoyment towards a book, but not quite ‘love’
  • A complex, interesting plotline that I thoroughly enjoyed (including character-driven plots)
  • A great writing style
  • Intricate, multi-dimensional characters that felt fully-developed and I grew to love over the course of the novel
  • Well-developed subplots and ‘twists’ that felt genuine, rather than for the sake of a shock-factor or purely to drive the plot
  • Potentially a feeling that something was ‘missing’ or lacking that prevented the book from reaching 5 stars, or one negative element that I couldn’t overlook
  • A book that I would happily recommend to everyone (obviously dependent on age/explicit content etc.)
  • The author becomes someone I would recommend to others, and I will continue to look out for their work

Quintessential examples – Every Heart a Doorway, You Should See Me in a Crown

★★★

  • An overall sense of enjoyment towards a book
  • A mostly interesting plotline that I enjoyed (including character-driven plots)
  • A good writing style
  • Characters that felt bi-dimensional, underdeveloped or caricaturesque
  • Developed subplots that felt secondary to the main plot, and/or predictable ‘twists’
  • Some elements felt lacking and prevented the book from achieving more than 3 stars, or multiple negative elements I couldn’t overlook
  • A book I would still recommend to certain readers (depending on age/explicit content etc.)
  • The author wouldn’t be an immediate recommendation, but I would recommend if asked and would be happy to give their work another go

Quintessential examples – The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hugo, Five Feet Apart

★★

  • Very little to no enjoyment from reading this book (occasionally vehement hatred)
  • One or several aspects of the novel were problematic in some way
  • Potentially:
    • A writing style that I did not like (or grammatical/spelling errors in self-published work that hindered my reading experience)
    • Characters that were very unlikable and experienced little to no character arc, or were completely one-dimensional and again experienced no development over the course of the novel
    • A lack of plot, or a plot that was unrealistic or boring
    • Underdeveloped or shoe-horned subplots or easily-guessed ‘twists’
  • A book I would be hesitant to recommend to anyone unless my reasons for disliking where highly subjective (e.g. I would still recommend a book with an intrusive, omnipotent narrator as others may enjoy that style, whereas I would not recommend a book I disliked for problematic content)
  • I wouldn’t pick up another book by this author unless on the strong recommendation of someone else

Quintessential example – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Furious Thing

DNF (basically a ★ but I like to have read the whole book to rate it)

  • No enjoyment of this book and I couldn’t finish it
  • One or several aspects of this novel were problematic in some way
  • Probably:
    • A writing style that I did not like (or grammatical/spelling errors in self-published work that hindered my reading) and I couldn’t continue reading
    • Characters that were very unlikable or one-dimensional (and I have no idea if they experienced development as I couldn’t finish the book)
    • A lack of plot that made continuing to read seem pointless
  • DNFs do not count towards my Goodreads goal
  • A book I wouldn’t recommend and I wouldn’t pick up another book by this author

I very rarely DNF, but I did recently have to DNF The Collector


I am much happier with this new rating system. I’m hoping it will make writing reviews and making judgements about my ratings easier. It is still of course completely subjective, as what I define as a ‘great’ writing style or a plot twist I didn’t guess is still very personal to me.

Do you have a rating system or is it purely a ‘gut’ thing? Are there any criteria that a book has to hit to reach 5 stars? If you have a similar post, I’d love it if you’d leave it below so I can have a look!

9 thoughts on “Re-evaluating My Rating System

  1. This is impressive! I don’t know if I could think up a specific system like you did! I also really love your idea of a 6th star; I hadn’t considered that before but I might adopt it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! It took quite a while to figure out what elements of a book make me give it a specific rating! And I love my 6 star rating, I find it really helpful when trying to differentiate from books I loved and gave 5 stars and my absolute top favourite books!

      Liked by 1 person

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