How good was that? How I Pick My Ratings for Book Reviews

While I’m reading a book, I’ll usually put in quite a bit of thought about how many hearts I’m going to rate it when I’ve finished (yeah, I use hearts instead of stars in my reviews…). Sometimes I’m enchanted by a book right away, and sometimes it takes a bit longer to get into, so the rating can and usually does go up and down a number of times before I finish reading and start writing my review. And then there are the times when I get to the end of a book and find that the ending is just totally unsatisfying…yeah, the rating for those usually goes down quite a bit.

But we’ve all had that one teacher who’ll give you 20% more than the other hard-ass teacher for the same work. Same with ratings for books. I recently saw a 4-star rating on Goodreads where the person said “Amazing! I just loved this book!” and went on to gush about how amazing it was and how they would recommend it to everyone! Why, then, would you not give it 5 stars, I wondered…

Well, maybe that person reserves 5 stars for…I don’t know…a certain favourite genre, a well-known author, books that have been recommended by a certain person. I really feel like there are times when surely I liked a book the same amount as someone else, but I gave it 5 while they only gave it 3.

So I thought it might be nice to give you an idea of some of the thought processes that I go through when I’m coming up with a rating score for a book.

1 Heart: Ugh. That was horrible. Can I have my 6 hours back, please?

I don’t like giving up on books. So I usually don’t, unless I have a ton of other books out from the library that I need to get to, or some other deadline coming up (like trying to finish everything on the Canada Reads 2018 shortlist…). But that being said, you won’t find many 1-heart book reviews on my blog because I honestly probably wouldn’t put myself through finishing a book if it was that bad.

In fact, I just had a quick look at the last 30+ books I’ve reviewed, and there isn’t a single 1-star review in there. I mean, I do love reading, so I think a lot of the time just the fact that I got to read a book gets it 2 hearts or more. There’s usually some redeeming factor that’ll bring it up to more than 1.

2 Hearts: I didn’t like it, but it could have been worse

Looking over my reviews history, I don’t give out the old 2 hearts very often, but I do use it. The only book that I have so far given 2 hearts to was Fifteen Dogs. I read that book because it was on the shortlist for Canada Reads in 2017, and I was trying to read them all. In fact, I actually chose this one out of the longlist, so my disappointment probably contributed to my low rating on that one. I didn’t like Fifteen Dogs, but I thought the Toronto setting saved it somewhat and so it didn’t become a dreaded 1-heart. I also thought it was trying to say some important things, but I just didn’t appreciate the message at the time, or I didn’t think it was conveyed very well.

So I usually give 2 hearts to books that I don’t like, but that have some small redeeming qualities. I think it’s safe to say that 2 hearts really means I didn’t like the book but I’m trying to be diplomatic or objective in some way.

3 Hearts: This Book Was OK. Just OK.

I give 3 hearts to about a third of the books I read. Book that get 3 hearts are OK. There’s nothing that amazing about them, but I guess I liked them. Meh. Or something that happens often is that I start out really loving a book, and then it just goes downhill…or loses the plot.

I’ve pasted below my list of 3-heart ratings so far. I think Forgiveness is a good example of a 3-heart rating book. I mean, I liked it. I thought that the author had a really interesting life story to tell. But the whole thing just somehow missed that mark for me. I didn’t actively dislike it, but I didn’t think it was that great, either.

Book Title

Author

Rating

Forgiveness

Mark Sakamoto

3

Tomboy Survival Guide

Ivan E. Coyote

3

The Comic Book Story of Beer

Jonathan Hennessey

3

When Breath Becomes Air

Paul Kalanithi

3

A Daughter’s Deadly Deception

Jeremy Grimaldi

3

The Dark Net

Jamie Bartlett

3

The Reason You Walk

Wab Kinew

3

Nostalgia

M. G. Vassalji

3

Barracuda

Christos Tsiolkas

3

The Children Act

Ian McEwen

3

4 Hearts: Wow! That was really good. If only…

Apparently I give out 4-heart reviews quite freely. Now we’re getting into books that I really liked. If I give a book 4 hearts, I definitely liked it, but it must have fallen slightly short somehow. For some reason, I don’t feel like shouting from the rooftops about this book.

A good example from the list of 4-heart books below is Cutting for Stone. It’s fair to say that I really liked that book. I loved reading about the life of the protagonist growing up in Ethiopia and eventually moving to the US. It was fascinating subject matter, and it was generally written quite well. However, I also felt that parts of the book dragged on. I felt like at least about 200 pages of that book could be scrapped to make it an even better book. So I gave it 4 hearts.

So 4 hearts is the rating I give most often of all. It means I really liked the book, but there was just a little something that I would have like to see different about the book.

Book Title

Author

Rating

Dance, Gladys, Dance

Cassie Stocks

4

It Was Me All Along

Andie Mitchell

4

Love and Salt Water

Ethel Wilson

4

The Conjoined

Jen Sookfong Lee

4

Cutting for Stone

Abraham Verghese

4

Dreams in a Time of War

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

4

The Exclusives

Rebecca Thornton

4

Wenjack

Joseph Boyden

4

One Hour in Paris: A True Story of Rape and Recovery

Karyn L. Freedman

4

Waiting for First Light

Roméo Dallaire

4

Quantum Night

Robert J. Sawyer

4

Knucklehead

Matt Lennox

4

The Light Between Oceans

M. L. Stedman

4

5 Hearts: Amazing! I will probably recommend this book to everyone who asks! And those who don’t! I must end every sentence about this book with an exclamation mark!

I give out 5-heart reviews pretty sparingly, although definitely more often than the 2- and 1-heart ratings. You can see below my list so far of 5-heart reviews.

If I’ve given a book 5 hearts, I really liked it. I would recommend the book to almost everyone. Maybe I would even read the book a second time one day (although that’s not that likely, since I rarely read books twice – there are just too many good ones in the world and not enough time!).

If you’re looking for your next book recommendation, and you tend to have similar tastes to me, then I would recommend you go for something from my 5-heart list. I realize that it sounds like I think my reviews are the be all and end all of reviews, but I don’t think that at all! I know that everyone’s tastes differ, so you might read a few of my 5-heart titles and then find that you don’t really have the same taste as me. And that’s fine!

Gosh, looking down that list, I realize I did really love each of those books for different reasons. Born a Crime was great because it somehow managed to be so entertaining and funny but serious and educational at the same time. The Break was a really well told story that I loved reading, and I thought it was a really important story. Well what can I say about Big Little Lies. Apparently some other people like it too, since it’s now a TV show with Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon. I think anything by Liane Moriarty would probably get 5 hearts from me.

Book Title

Author

Rating

Precious Cargo

Craig Davidson

5

Bellevue Square

Michael Redhill

5

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Jamie Ford

5

Born a Crime

Trevor Noah

5

The Break

Katherina Vermette

5

Secret Path

Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire

5

Big Little Lies

Liane Moriarty

5

So that’s my very non-scientific method of coming up with a score for each book. Do you write book reviews? Do you use a similar system, or are you more or less lenient than I am? Tell me in the comments!

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