What It Takes For Me to Rate a Book 5 Stars // What I Look for in Characters, Plot & More, ft. Examples!

As you may or may not know, I almost never rate books 5 stars.

I could write a whole post about why that is (and I might), but for now, I’ll just talk about what impossibly high standards a book must reach in order for me to give it the highest rating possible. I’ll be breaking this post down into sections entitled “plot”, “writing”, “characters”, etc., where I’ll talk about what I look for in each and how much this particular aspect of a book affects my rating. I hope this post’ll make sense—I feel like I’ve got my whole rating system figured out, but who knows? Human emotions are complicated. 😔

I also wanna say that I got the idea for this post from May @ Forever and Everly and Taasia @ Librae Paints Pages! Please give them a follow if you haven’t yet—you definitely won’t regret it. 💗

How Invested I Was

This is probably the number one thing I look for in a book—and what is missing in almost all of the books I’ve been reading lately. I find that I’m reading books just to finish them and add them to my Goodreads goal. When I’m reading a book, I have to care and feel invested, which leads us to the next point…

Characters

Characters are the best way to get me to care about a book. It doesn’t matter if there’s ZERO plot; if I care about, or, alternatively, am fascinated by the characters, then the book has a high chance of earning a high rating for me. On the other hand, if I didn’t care about the characters at all, then the highest possible rating I can give it is probably 3 stars.

The problem I’m experiencing right now is that I haven’t found a new all-time favorite character in SO long. It’s not enough for me to just passively root for a character, I have to actually love them or be really interested in them. This is a clear distinction I want to make: there are characters I find extremely well-written, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I like their personalities.

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A good example of a character I find immensely interesting but don’t necessarily like is Bakugo Katsuki from the manga and anime My Hero Academia (not really a book character, but he’s a top-tier example okay). He comes across as a typical bully at first, but as the plot moves along, you’re able to see that he’s much more than that. I don’t really like him as a person, but god is he one of the most compelling characters I’m ever come across.

What makes a character intriguing to me is when 1) the writer is able to expertly subvert a trope with their character, 2) something about them is a contradiction (e.g. they’re violent, but for a good cause), and/or 3) they’re extremely skilled at something, and it’s entertaining to see how good they are at this skill (like Inej Ghafa being super good at spying).

As for what makes me fall in love with a character, relatability is one factor, but I find it hard to relate to characters? The character has to be well-developed and—I don’t know—I just have to like them! 😭 Also, this isn’t guaranteed to work… but making them gay certainly helps.

Plot

I actually don’t care about plot very much? But a book has a better chance at becoming a 5-star read if something about the plot really WOWED me, like if a certain event had me thinking “This is epic!” or “How did you come up with that??”.

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A good example of a book with a great plot is Vicious by V.E. Schwab. The way Schwab utilizes alternating timelines is *chef’s kiss*.

Writing

I used to think that writing wasn’t important to me, but lately, I’ve been realizing that writing can greatly impact my enjoyment of a book?? For me, a writing style doesn’t have to be award-winning as long as it doesn’t negatively affect my reading experience.

For instance, I’ve had problems with Brandon Sanderson’s writing in the past because he has a very simple writing style. Usually, this doesn’t bother me, but with some of his books, I couldn’t help but notice how dry the writing was, and this really took me out of the story.

An outstanding writing style can really bump up my rating of a book though. I like it when the writing makes me feel like I’m in the book, experiencing the story and setting along with the characters. For instance, The Silence of Bones by June Hur! It’s a 2020 release about a murder mystery set in Joseon Era Korea, and while reading it, I really felt like I was in 1800’s Korea!!

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Themes/Messages

I’m really not the kind of reader who looks for profound themes in books. I 100% read to escape and find enjoyment in plot/characters. Themes and messages never have any impact on my rating unless I can personally relate to them.

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Again, very few books carry a personal meaning for me, but Radio Silence by Alice Oseman’s portrayal of teens and its underlying message about school and the pressure to go to university really spoke to me!

Pacing

This doesn’t affect my rating much, but I do tend to notice if the pacing of a book is slow or uneven. However, good characters, plot, and/or writing could probably help me overlook it.

Radio Silence is a good example again!! I was kinda annoyed with the pacing at the end, but I gave it 5 stars anyway for the characters and what it meant to me.

Worldbuilding

If the worldbuilding is really fascinating and I’m amazed at how the author was able to come up with [insert thing], then it’ll definitely earn the book some points. I also don’t think I mind info-dumps or being confused much as long as I eventually understand everything.

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But a book series with worldbuilding that I… kinda hated was The Bone Witch. Please don’t kill me, Chupec-hoes. 😭😭 I spent all of The Bone Witch confused about the fictional countries and magic system. And while I wasn’t confused anymore in its sequel, The Heart Forger, I was annoyed instead. Look, I have certain pet peeves when it comes to worldbuilding and The Bone Witch universe commits pretty much all of them. 😔

Representation

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Representation almost never affects my rating, but I can think of two books with Asian representation that did: The Dragon Warrior by Katie Zhao and Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen. (Small tangent about Loveboat, Taipei: It gets a lot of hate for its drama-filled plot, and while I do agree that some things were poorly handled, I liked that it portrayed Asians as the ones being messy and learning from bad decisions for once.)

I think that it’s hard for representation to influence my rating, because my experience and relationship with my marginalizations is a little hard to capture? I don’t think I’ve ever been completely represented by a book yet. But I’m honestly not complaining, because similar to how I don’t read for themes or messages, I also don’t read to feel represented. 😕 It’s enough for me to know that there are more and more books with protagonists who look like me coming out each year. But I know that that’s definitely not the case for everyone!

If a book has lots of representation—and good representation at that—I’ll definitely make sure to mention it somewhere. However, if I found an #ownvoices book bad character, plot, etc.-wise, no amount of diversity can save it. (Sorry, Scavenge the Stars, but I’m talking about you.)

And that’s it!! I hope I was able to explain everything well. Feelings are hard to put into words sometimes. 😅 But what we can all take away from this post is that if the characters are god-tier, Caitlin probably won’t care about anything else.

Also, here’s a short explanation of what each rating means to me to wrap this post up (I use the basic Goodreads rating system):

  • 5 stars– It was amazing. (Usually, I’m stricter with giving these out, but circumstances have forced me to be more lenient…)
  • 4 stars– I really liked it.
  • 3 stars– I liked it. (This is a good rating for me!!)
  • 2 stars– It was okay—I didn’t hate or dislike it, but it was meh.
  • 1 star– I didn’t like it.

Also, I don’t use half-stars anymore, and while this helps in some ways, it does mean sometimes that my enjoyment of two books I rated similarly can vastly differ. :”(

How do you rate your books? What does it take for you to rate a book 5 stars? Do you use the star rating system? Do you have any recommendations for books with god-tier characters? (Please, I am begging.)

91 thoughts on “What It Takes For Me to Rate a Book 5 Stars // What I Look for in Characters, Plot & More, ft. Examples!

  1. I’m probably a bit more lenient than you and do end up giving a lot of 4 and 5 stars.. and I have this weird thing about my rating scale. I love rereading but it just so happens that most of the books I love rereading are the ones I give 4 or 4.5 but never the ones I give 5. And I can’t even tell you why 😂😂😂

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    1. I’m really happy for you though!! It must be so nice to almost always rate books either four or five stars 😭😭 and I don’t really reread (I should do it more often), but I get that… idk, sometimes books I rated 4 stars stick out to me more than books I rated 5 stars??

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      1. I think I just go into a book well prepared… I read a lot of reviews, so I know what I’m gonna get. Maybe that’s why the chances of me loving it is higher and more 4-5 stars.
        I just have a lot free time, so I reread when I’m too bored and don’t wanna touch anything new.
        And yes… I suppose some 4 stars do stick out for me. Maybe they just are the ones that make me very emotional 😂😂

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      2. Ah, that makes sense! I also focus a lot of reviews, but I tend not to read the really in-depth ones because I like going into books knowing very little. Maybe I should read more reviews like you do in order to boost my average rating 🤔
        Omg, I wish I could do that! I just have so many pressing books on my TBR that rereading makes me feel guilty. And I think 4 star books sometimes stick out more to me because I’m subconsciously salty about the fact that they could’ve been 5 stars? 😅

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      3. I can’t get into a book if I don’t know much about it. I just need to know 😬😬😬 I’m not someone who cares much for spoilers either… so I read in depth reviews, especially if it’s an author I don’t know.
        I know the feeling. Rereading should probably make me feel guilty too, but they are a comfort sometimes. And I prefer audiobooks for rereads, so I just put on a favorite and go to sleep in the night without having to worry that I’ll miss something 😊😊😊

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  2. This was really interesting to read! I think that I rate books pretty high, in general. I rarely eat books less than 3 stars unless I have major issues with it. For me to rate a book 5 stars, it means that I was really invested in the plot, and could really connect with the characters. A five star book for me could have a minor issue, but I’d mostly just have really enjoyed it!

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    1. thank you so much, Aria! i’m really happy that you consider yourself a high rater–it’s important to enjoy the books we read <33 i think we view 5 stars the same way! for me to give a book the full rating, i have to fully care about the characters, what's happening in it, and have almost no complaints about it. 5 stars are so rare for me that i just forgive minor issues, haha 😅

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  3. Wow, I love it how you broke everything down and explained it! I don’t really have a system. My focuses are pretty much same as yours but I am not, sadly, always constant in my rating. Or I happen to rate something 5 stars right after reading it but then change my mind after thinking about it for a while. I should definitely work on a rating system :))

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    1. Thank you so much!! and I honestly rate the same way as you, haha! even though I know my standards for things, my ratings are still primarily based on gut feeling (and I am more lenient with them, because if I weren’t, my average rating would be so low…). I also change my initial rating if I find that a book isn’t as good or is better when I look back on it!

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  4. I feel like this is me in a nutshell. Personal investment or, in my case, emotional investment is a HUGE reason for me to want to rate a book 5 stars. A book could have the prettiest or even the most masterful writing and if it makes me snooze or doesn’t seem to have a point, I will likely give it 2 stars. A 5 star book usually has to subvert my expectations of what I thought was going to happen and surprise me.

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    1. I’m so glad that you could relate! Yes, i can’t stress how much I have to care about what’s happening in the book. And I know right! If I’m not invested, then no amount of groundbreaking writing is gonna stop me from dnfing or skim reading. Also, I really wanted to include an emotions/emotional investment section, but I rarely get emotions from reading, haha. the most I can hope for is caring about what happens 😂

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  5. This was super interesting to read, Caitlin! Thank you for taking the time to write out all of your thoughts, I really enjoyed going through them.💗I’m fairly lenient with five star ratings, but I still agree with a lot of what you said in this post! For me, most of these factors don’t influence my rating unless there’s something really wrong with them if that makes sense, except for characters. Characters make or break a novel for me for sure!! But like you said, the writing style doesn’t really influence my rating unless it’s noticeably off, and the same goes for plot or pacing for me- I usually don’t have a problem with them unless it’s glaringly affecting my reading if that made any sense?? Anyway, this was a great post as always!! Hope you’re well xx

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    1. Ah, thank you so much, Olivia! You’re the best 🥺💞 I’m really happy that you have lots of 5-star ratings! (really can’t relate, haha…) Yes, I also don’t really care about any of these unless there’s something glaringly wrong that it affects my reading experience. I find that what I look for the most in a book is investment—I absolutely have to care about what’s going on in the book, and if I didn’t, the book probably isn’t gonna get a high rating even if there was nothing objectively wrong with it per se

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  6. This was such a cool post! For me, the most important things are characters, writing and how invested I am. If something is well-written, I’ll forgive a boring plot. And if something has good characters, I can forgive a weak plot as well. BUT if something is poorly written or I don’t like the characters, it’s rare for me to rate it five stars.

    I also agree with what you said about representation. For me, good representation is always a positive, but doesn’t affect the rating, if that makes sense. Like, a book doesn’t get points for having good representation nor does it lose points for bad representation. Unless that’s the whole point of the book

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    1. Thank you so much, Ally! oh, I totally agree with you on all of these!! I think Strange the Dreamer is one book with an eh plot that I still rated highly because of the writing. And I really can forgive anything if I like the characters enough! conversely, if I don’t like the characters, then it’s gonna be real hard for a book to get a high rating

      Yes, you summed my thoughts on representation up perfectly! Of course, representation is always a good thing—but I don’t really factor that into my rating of a book like I do plot, characters, etc. Like you said, representation neither gives nor loses points. I think the only time representation really affects my rating is if it’s glaringly offensive/inaccurate

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  7. Omg I agree with everything in this post. I barely rate a book 5 stars because I have high standards. I need a book to be compelling, the plot very intriguing, and I also have to be very invested in the story. I also relate with what you said about the writing. Writing style is so important to get us to connect with the story. Great post and loved it ❤

    jillian @ jillian etc.

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    1. Thank you so much, Jillian! I’m glad you agree with me and that I’ve found another reader who’s super picky about 5 stars. Ahhh, 5 star reads are becoming rarer and rarer for me by the day 😫 I honestly don’t have many set standards for a 5 star book—I just have to be extremely invested in it and be able to point things that it did well

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  8. I think I’d add emotional reponce to my list. If a book can make me laugh or cry, it has a very good chance of getting 5/5 from me. Mind you that’s not the only thing that helps in this – if it has a scene where I feel like my pulse is racing because of something going on, well… that works as well. Because you can’t care about what happens to a character unless you feel an emotional attachment to them or what they’re trying to achieve.

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    1. Yes, you really explained how important emotional attachment is! I debated adding this to my list, but I almost never get emotional while reading, so I didn’t. I think the best a book can do for me is make me care about what’s going on. Sometimes this leads to me getting emotional, but usually not, so I settle for investment!

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  9. Eeeek ok I’m praying Chicagoland Vampires doesn’t let you down now *crosses fingers* For me I can overlook a lot of things if I’m immersed in the world, and I’ve noticed recently that it’s not been happening as much. Sure I’ll be rooting for the characters but there’s that difference between rooting and being so immersed you would do anything for the characters to get the ending you think they deserve.

    I have always been a highish rater, now as much now but I typically give out 4 stars to books. A lot of 5 star reads tend to fall to the Urban Fantasy or Paranormal genres as there’s something about those genres, where everything just works for me. I also place a lot of emphasis on how a book makes me feel, so I really enjoy characters who are sassy, aren’t afraid to kick ass and erm slow burn helps a lot. As you know, I am a sucker for slow burns haha. Although my ratings don’t really mean much, as I place more emphasis on what “shelf” I put the book under, as that tells you more how I felt about the book than the rating.

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    1. Me too, Clo 😭 slow burn romance is my lifeblood and I haven’t found a new fave series in a while, so I really have high hopes for it. AND SAME! I find that with most of the books I’m reading lately, I am rooting for the characters, but I’m not actually on the edge of my seat, guessing what’s going to happen next, getting emotional over certain events, etc. It’s like I’m reading about the characters, and not *experiencing* the journey with them ://

      Ah, I’m glad that your ratings generally tend to be high! I’m so happy for people who enjoy almost everything they read ❤ & maybe you like urban fantasy and paranormal because those usually focus on characters, especially lovable ones? that's one reason why I should really read more from those genres 😂 that really makes sense!! my rating system is honestly a little wack, and I feel like I should come up with a more accurate way of conveying my feelings on a book

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  10. For me a great protagonist/main character is often essential, but usually this has to be complemented by the plot, the writing style, or both. I find that I give 5 stars less than I used to!
    A really interesting and thoughtful post, Caitlin. 😊

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    1. thank you so much, stephen ❤
      I honestly find that my fave character in a book usually isn't the main character, haha. But I definitely do still have to at least like the MC in order to rate a book 5 stars. and I think it makes sense that for you, a great protagonist has to be complemented by the other elements of a book because 5 star books are usually the ones that we find virtually flawless!

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  11. I rate based on pretty much all of the same things! I definitely tend to focus on plot, characters, and writing. I can forgive a book not having much of a plot if it focuses on the characters a lot more and really makes them feel like real people, but I do still really want there to be an engaging plot. And writing is so important!! I’m not too big on ornate flowery writing (*cough*twilight*cough*) so I will always welcome authors who have a writing style that is a little more simplistic.

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    1. Ah, same here! I honestly wish that I only focused on things like plot, characters, and writing because sometimes all of those things could be good, but I’d still rate the book low because the investment factor just wasn’t there 😅 And I can forgive a slow plot if we spend more time on the characters. I think Six of Crows is an excellent example of this. Yes, it’s a little slow to start, but because of that the characters become as real and three-dimensional as possible. Even though the plot in SoC is spectacular, what I’ll always love about it are the characters. I honestly wish more books would focus on the characters more. I feel like most writers try to balance plot and characters equally, but I’m just here for the characters, man. If the characters feel like real people to me, I really won’t care about the plot 😂 and I don’t read a lot of books with flowery writing, but I do like writing styles that are both simplistic and flowery! too much purple prose is annoying, but i also want a little more flavor in the writing, if that makes sense :”‘)

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  12. I love this post so much! I’m always really interested in other people’s rating systems/what constitutes a 5-star read for them 😍 I used to be such a mood rater – basically, if I got a good feeling when I finished a book & I couldn’t stop thinking about it, then it would be a 5 stars 😂 Nowadays I’m a little pickier with my ratings, although I do find I still give out ‘sentimental’ 5 stars, especially to re-reads 😳

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    1. Thank you so much, Ngoc!! I really like these types of posts too ❤ Though I don't think this post is as accurate as it seems 😂 while I outlined a lot of stuff about my rating system, I rate based on gut feeling too, haha. I'm also way more lenient with the way I rate things now, because if I weren't, my average rating on gr would probably be below 2 🤦🏻‍♀️

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      1. Hahaha I actually think I’ve gotten more critical with my ratings! I used to hand out 4 & 5 stars all the time but now it takes a LOT for a book to get a high rating from me (unless it’s a re-read of a favourite, in which case it is likely to get sentimentality brownie points 😂)

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  13. I think you did a great job explaining! 🙂 I agree that characters make the book, and you don’t have to particular like one to think they are great in the story. I also love it when a character grows towards the end of the book. Also, the investment is what makes it a great read or just an average read. I give the book 5-stars when it gave me a lot of emotions or a book hangover. Like if I cried or laughed out loud or got that really swoony feeling (I only read romance contemporaries, so the swoony feeling is a must!).

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    1. Thank you so much, Jas!! Characters are everything, haha. And I really love the ones you don’t necessarily like, but find really interesting anyways. Yes, it always sucks when there’s generally nothing wrong with a book, but I still have to rate it low, because I just didn’t’ care. I don’t really get emotional while reading, so investment is the best I can hope for. And though I mostly read fantasy, I agree that the swoony feelings–and feelings in general–are the most important when it comes to romantic contemporaries!

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  14. OH I LOVE THIS! I didn’t get why people loved Bakugo at first but wow his character growth thooo “if you keep looking down at people you won’t see your own weaknesses” **extremely paraphrased** I still can’t fully like him but definitely an interesting character for sure

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    1. thank you!! OMG, YES!!! when i first started watching the show, I was so taken aback, because he was so nasty & angry for no reason. but i loved that my expectations for his character were subverted, & he didn’t turn out to be a typical bully. i mean, he’s still a bully, which is why i still can’t fully like him, but i’m excited too see him develop even more

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  15. I’ve been working on a discussion about being an unreliable reviewer (well, more like book-rater, let’s pretend that’s a word), and after reading your super-comprehensive list, I’m even more convinced that yeah, I am. 🙈 You have all these reasons and I’m just like, “ok, feels like a five star read.” I don’t think I give out five stars too easily, but I’ve definitely given them out to books that I didn’t find *perfect* but that really grabbed me for whatever reason. 🙈

    I love that you mentioned the characters, because yes, they’re the most important for me!! I love seeing their development (especially if they’re morally gray characters), and I have to say, I’m not sure when was the last time I found a new all time favorite character? 😔 You know that I’ve been listening to The Magnus Archives, and I found such big favorites there; it really made me reflect on the books I’ve been reading and how their characters just don’t fully compare. I used to have MASSIVE FAVES, but now it’s like, a find a favorite and then I kind of forget about them? They don’t remain a favorite, which is disappointing.

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    1. Noooo 😭😭 I rate mostly based on gut feeling too!! In this post, it may seem like I have a criteria for books, but really my ratings aren’t that reliable, haha. I’ve definitely given 5 stars to books that I didn’t find perfect–either because of the emotions or if the flaws weren’t that bad

      OMG, YES!! I totally understand where you’re coming from! like, I’ve come across many well-developed characters, but I haven’t found a new character that I think about everyday in a loooong while. I should really continue listening to TMA, ahhhh. I stopped in like, the fourth episode of the first season, haha 😅

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  16. This was really interesting to read about !! I think I can be a very generous 4 star person but it has to be extra special to be a 5 star, I like to save them for something extra special to me !! Like you characters are so important– if they are complex and real or appeal to me in any way then I am liking to fall in love with the whole book!! Characters really do affect my reading experiences !!
    It is often a feeling I have for a 5 star read though, like I can’t wait to pick it up and I’m so compelled by everything and I can’t stop thinking about it. Even if I notice flaws I will probably still rate it 5 stars if I have that feeling!!
    I think writing affects me too, like if there is a quote I love than I immediately feel attached or if it has a way of pulling me in. It will affect my overall experience !! Also I love an important theme, it will just give me something to keep thinking about and makes the book feel so strong in my opinion as it dissects this topics and can teach or remind you of something !!
    I loved finding out about your rating system and what makes you fall for a book !! I hope you are able to find those 5 star books soon !! ❤

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    1. Thank you so much!! I hope I find another 5-star book soon too, Sophie :(( Yes, I’m pretty generous with 4 stars too, because if not, my average rating would be SO low lmao, but for me to give a book 5 stars, I have to really care about what was happening in it & have almost no complaints about it. Good writing can really bump up my enjoyment of a book too!! I just love the ones that make you feel like you’re *in* the book, and I absolutely love it when the writing really allows you to know the characters three-dimensionally. I’m not really a reader who looks for themes, but I do look for representation, hehe. the representation doesn’t necessarily have to be made into a theme or used to deliver a message (I’m all for casual diversity!), but I really do not like reading about only straight white people ://

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  17. Great list and explanations! Characters also influence my rating the most. If the characters are compelling and feel REAL (and I love the reasons you give for why a character may intrigue you), then I’m going to love a book. Robin Hobb’s Farseer books come to mind when I think of compelling characters. I really felt like I experienced FitzChivalry’s journey—down to the side characters and the many ways they made him feel—with him.

    Note: Bakugo is a great character.

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    1. Thank you so much, Crystal! I know!!! this is why I made the distinction that I don’t have to like the character—if a character has lots of layers, and they’re very fleshed out, the book is probably gonna get a high rating from me. I’ve heard a lot about Robin Hobb, especially her series that follows Fitz, but I’d never been interested in it until now. Knowing that you liked the characters there is really convincing me—I’m just a little hesitant because I know that series is long, & I really don’t like reading books with no diversity ://

      Yes, I love that he wasn’t the typical bully character like I expected he would be, and I’m really excited to see him develop!

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      1. If you want to give Robin Hobb a try, but aren’t sure about following the entire series, you could start with the first three books. The nice thing about Hobb’s Elderling books is that each arc is broken into a trilogy or quartet that can stand by itself (it’s best to read them in order, but it provides nice stopping places).

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  18. love this post, caitlin!! i’m so glad mine could inspire you to write this 🥺 like you said, the characters are the most important part of the book for me! if i can’t connect to them in some way and care about them, then there’s no way i’ll care about what actually happens in the book. i’ve noticed that i’ve been caring more about pacing lately, but that’s probably since i found the other aspects (characters and plot) lacking lmao!

    i also rarely give books 5 stars — or at least, i do now, since in 2017/2018 i was still rating a lot of books 5 stars. anyways, i really like reading posts about rating systems because i like seeing people’s different interpretations and uses of it! 4 has always been my default “i enjoyed it” rating but… i think i’m gradually becoming more critical so i’m inching towards the 3 stars default as well! great post ❤

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    1. thank you, May! Your post was so good that I had to write one myself ❤ ❤ ah, you put it perfectly! if I don't care about who the plot of the book is happening to, then there’s really no point. I’ve always been a lenient when it comes to pacing, but I totally get that! If stuff like the characters and plot are lacking, I think I just immediately turn to the other aspects of the book for enjoyment lmao

      omg, same. I was always a little picky with 5 stars, but I used to have 5-star books regularly back in 2017/2018 too 😭 I feel like becoming a book blogger is part of the reason why I’m more critical of books now. 4 stars used to be my default “i enjoyed this” rating as well 😂 but now i really evaluate /every/ aspect of a book while i read, so i’m more aware of a its flaws ://

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  19. Loved reading this post Caitlin! I think the biggest factor for me in giving a book a high rating is characters! If I love the characters a book will get a pretty high rating, even if the plot isn’t that exciting (With The Fire on High is an example for me because even though not a lot happened I loved Emoni and hearing her story!). Even better if it’s combined with plot. My latest 5 star read had everything (Crooked Kingdom!!) and I’m so mad at myself for not getting to it sooner. The Six of Crows characters have my heart and the plot was also insane.

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    1. thank you, emme! YES!! Literally nothing matters if I love the characters. Ah, I wish I could find a new all-time favorite characters soon. 🥺 I’ve wanted to read With the Fire On High for so long, ahhh. I read a bit of it last month, but had to put it down, because I had more pressing book to get to :((
      I’m so, so glad that SoC and CK lived up to the hype for you!! Those books really have all my love 🥰 the characters are god-tier, & getting to see them pull off impossible tasks was just the cherry on top

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  20. Oh, this was such a great discussion post, Caitlin! 🥰 Investment in the story is definitely so important for me, it’s a very personal aspect, but I need to feel that certain ‘spark’ for a book in order for it to get 5 stars instead of 4! Characters are really important for me as well because I need to connect to them in order to also really get immersed in the story. Plot is somewhat important as well – I need to have at least a decent, logical plotline – but Characters have a bigger impact on my rating. When it comes to the worldbuilding I definitely give points for creativity and complexity but no good worldbuilding can save a book with a super slow pace and not engaging characters 😅

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    1. Thank you, Caro!! Yes, I know! I absolutely cannot like a book if I wasn’t invested, and sometimes that makes me feel guilty because like you said, it can be such a personal factor. And yes. Characters really are secondary to plot 🥺 I totally agree with that too! Worldbuilding can help, but if I’m just Not having a good time, then I’ll probably just dnf the book or give it 2 stars at most

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  21. This post was so in-depth 😮! I agree with all of your points, especially your number one! If a book deserves 5 stars, I’ll be invested to the point that it’s all I think about when I’m not reading it 😅. Pacing is a huge thing for me too! I’m gonna use Sanderson as an example too hahaha, but even though I love his plot, they’re sooo slow-moving 😩. I think the only criteria I would add to your list is that a 5 star book makes me cry 😂. Even if it’s a happy story, I’ll find myself crying if it’s a 5 star read hahaha (I’m a mess.) Oooo and I was wondering what’s the reason you don’t give half star ratings anymore 🙂?
    Loved this post, Caitlin 😄!

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    1. Thank you so much, Belle 🥺 YES, I really cannot rate a book 5 stars if I didn’t care about what was happening in it. And I know!! Sanderson is undoubtedly a genius, but after reading two books in the Mistborn trilogy, I’ve come to realize that the middle of his books are always slow-moving. Ah, it’s so interesting that all your 5-star reads make you cry, whether they’re happy or sad! I wish I could say the same, but I never cry in books :””) And I don’t use half stars anymore, so that using Goodreads can be less complicated (since until now they refuse to give us half-stars *sigh*). Also, it’s easier to record & get the average of your ratings if you only have five types to choose from, & back when I used half-stars, I’d have SO much trouble deciding between ratings. Limiting my choices helped immensely (though it hasn’t in some ways)

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  22. What a great discussion, and I couldn’t agree more! I’m allllll for the characters in a book, and the plot is always secondary to me. Characters and theme are also super closely linked, and the themes in a book are really important to me, too. There’s also just some special thing about 5-star reads that I can’t explain? Something that makes the book mind-blowingly amazing or impacts me in some way. It’s hard to put into words, though, and I think it’s a very personal thing. 🙂

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    1. Thank you so much, Charis!! Yes, I honestly wish more authors would write character-driven novels—the plot is literally worthless if I don’t like the characters lol. But for me, 5-star reads don’t really have that “spark”—I just have to be wholly invested in them, which is a little hard to explain, because sometimes a book could objectively be fine, and I’d still dislike it because I just didn’t care :”)

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  23. I think my two biggest factors in giving books five stars is definitely characters and what I call ‘vibe’, though the latter can often result in a rating that I can’t quite explain. I’ve also noticed that I’m more inclined to give a book a higher rating if it takes me a short while to read it, so perhaps some of my current 5-stars would not be rated so high if I went back and reread them. This was a really cool post, seeing how other people rate books is always so interesting!

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    1. Ah, I’m glad you had fun reading this, Marley! Omg, what you call “vibe” is investment factor for me, I think. Like, a book could have virtually no problems, but I’d still rate it low if I didn’t care about it. I’m also more likely to rate a book high if I just couldn’t put it back or felt a strong urge to finish it! Though sometimes I take weeks to finish a 5-star book, because I’m a fan of reading multiple books at the same time, & I’m such a mood reader, hehe

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  24. ah this is such a great post, I love learning more about how you rate your books! characters matter a whole lot to me, too, i need to care about the characters in order for me to really care for a book and ultimately, even fall in love with it! ❤

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  25. i think this post came in at a perfect time, as i’ve been debating a lot of my ratings for books. i feel like i’ve been rating them a lot lower than usual, and so far this year, i’ve only had one five star, so i’ve been wondering what changed and what can be improved.
    like you, i think pacing, characters and themes are very important for me to enjoy a book. however, i do feel like the idea of “themes” have, in the past, blurred my rating, and i ended up giving a higher rating than i would because it discussed significant themes and had good representation. not that these things are not important, but i don’t think they 100% speak about the characters and plot, which is what matters the most in the end. even if a book discusses important matters, if the cast of characters is unlikeable, there’s no plot and the writing is meh, as you pointed out, no amount of diversity can save it.
    i think five star books are simply books that really speak to me and that i found myself not wanting to let go. it’s been a hard feeling to come across lately and i don’t know if it’s because i’m really not enjoying the books i’m reading, or if i’m falling into a slump, hahah.

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    1. I’m so glad this post came at the perfect time for you!! I’ve also only rated one book 5 stars this year, but that’s typical for me lmao :”( I hope you find another one soon ❤️
      I’m really glad that you agree!! I actually never thought about it that way because I’ve always been the type who doesn’t care about themes much. But I have felt bad about rating diverse books low before. I feel like representation should be a given though—not something that a book gets a higher rating for.
      I find it hard to describe a 5-star book too 😅 I don’t know, I just have to have a *feeling* while I’m reading a book, & that feeling should still be there when i reach the end. But I definitely can’t get that feeling if I’m not invested, if I don’t care about the characters, or if there’s a glaring issue that I can’t ignore. I’ve rated books that I had some minor problems with 5 stars before, partly because I’m way too strict with 5-star ratings & partly because I had that feeling 😅

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  26. I loved all the points you made Caitlin!! For me characters are always super important, and I can’t stand it when there are one-dimensional characters, or characters where you don’t really understand their motivations. I’m usually a lot more wishy-washy with my ratings in general though. 3 stars can mean anything from, I liked it, to wow I would never recommend this to anyone. I really admire that you’re more set in place with your ratings, and the truth is that I feel I can trust a rating from you more since you so clearly define what each star means to you. As usual I loved this post!! 💕💕

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    1. Omg, same!! one dimensional characters are the bane of my existence 😭 and it’s annoying when authors skew their characters’ motivations or don’t explain them well just for the sake of the plot!

      ahhh, thank you so much 🥺🥺 my ratings aren’t that accurate despite what it may seem like tho :(((( i don’t use half-stars anymore, and sometimes i’m kinder or stricter with my ratings depending on my mood :””)

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  27. I love that you have your rating system sorted. I know I have definite criteria books need to reach for me to give them a full five stars (it’s complicated, but basically I need to have an intense emotional reaction), but it gets a bit muddled around the 3 star rating.
    I can totally relate to your reasons for enjoying books -being invested is definitely one of the top things I need for a five star book.
    I’m a bit more lenient when it comes to characters though, I think. I keep talking about Dark Matter this year but it’s one of the few I’ve given 5 stars too (4.5, if I’m being totally honest, but still) and that didn’t have the strongest characters, but they were likeable enough for me to be invested in the outcome + the plot and pacing was great in my opinion. I think I got lost somewhere in the middle of that sentence, I hope it makes sense. On the other hand, I loved the characters so much in A Duke By Default by Alyssa Cole (also 4.5) that I looked past some of the plot points that I wasn’t super into.
    The Silence of Bones has been on my radar for a little while so I am so excited to see that you liked the writing. Some otherwise great books have really been brought down by their writing for me which can be SO frustrating.
    I loved Radio Silence too! The themes and message were so important to me.
    Absolutely awesome post, Caitlin! I feel like I understand what you look for in a book so much more now 😀

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    1. Ah, I don’t think I have it sorted out despite what it may seem like in this post :”( My ratings aren’t 100% reliable, and like you, I find 5 star books hard to define! I just have to have that *feeling*, which I don’t even know how to explain. But I do know that I can’t get that feeling if I’m not invested in the book
      Omg, I totally get rounding up 4.5-star reads to 5 stars. Sometimes I even give 4-star reads 5 stars, because I know that very few books can meet my criteria 🤦🏻‍♀️ I think I’ve given 5 stars to books where the characters weren’t necessarily faves too, though this has to be made up for by the pacing, plot, etc. But if I absolutely ADORE the characters, the book is most probably getting 5 stars, no matter how sh*tty everything else is. (A good example is the Captive Prince series lmao. It’s a very controversial book, I know, but the fact that I love the main couple so much makes it hard for me to be critical of the series. I’ve definitely stopped recommending it to people tho 😅)
      Yes, I never realized how important writing is for me until recently! the writing has a big influence on how much I can connect with the story and characters. And the atmosphere that the writing in The Silence of Bones created is so good!!
      Ah, I’m so glad you loved Radio silence!
      thank you so much, Sabrina 😭🤍🤍

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  28. This was great! Some time ago, I used to be more strict about my reviews and how I rate books. I didn’t like giving five stars, because I was afraid I wasn’t being critical enough. Now, I don’t care so much. If I feel really connected with a character, there are really high chances of a good rating. The plot, pace, and worldbuilding do have an impact on me, but not as big, and I barely notice the writing most times (so when I do, it’s because I usually like it). If I feel really attached to the book overall, I will likely give either 4.5 or 5 stars, and I’m happy with it 😀

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    1. thank you! ahhh, I try to have a healthy balance of being critical and just letting myself enjoy the books I read, but it’s hard 🙈 I do find myself being more lenient with ratings lately though!
      that’s great! I find it hard to really connect with a character, but when I do, I’ll probably rate the book 5 stars. & i used to think I didn’t notice writing, but now I realize that I do 😅
      thanks for sharing, Marta!!

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  29. I agree that the intangible “investment” in a book is the biggest factor in rating something five stars (or, for me, Absolutely Addicted). But how you get to that investment is the real question. Like you, I think characterization affects me the most. I can forgive a lot if a book has characters I love!

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  30. I think how invested you are in the story – and also enjoyment – are really important factors when it comes to rating books. Because surely the inability to put a book down must mean you’re loving it, at least to some degree? Characters are important though as you said. It’s wonderful when you find new ones to root for!! Although I also agree that they can be not necessarily likeable but incredibly interesting too. Kind of why I like villains 😂 and I love exploring new worlds so world building is pretty important to me, especially with fantasy and dystopian fiction.

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    1. absolutely true!! I really have to care about the story, or else there’s literally no point in me reading it lmao. yes, i adore it when i find a new character to stan. 🥺 & i really like overanalyzing things, so i think that’s why i love interesting, well-layered characters. worldbuilding is one of the reasons my fave genre is fantasy! it’s just so fun to escape into another world, or read about something than an author came up with with just their imagination

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  31. I definitely use the star rating system! I find it an effective way to summarize my thoughts about a book and my star rating definitions are similar to yours. I use half star rating because I just can’t do it when there’s no half star. It makes me feel so torn when rating a book that I feel conflicted about 😅

    I’m not really that generous when it comes to giving high rating. Well, last year me was but this year me has been a little bit strict. I think the major influence that will prompt me to give a book 4/5 stars is the emotional impact it has on me and how likely the book is to stay in my head forever and ever. To be honest, I’m not the type who can cry easily when reading something (of course the book doesn’t have to be sad). And even if I find the book enjoyable, I might forget about it and end up not feeling the same anymore when some time has passed. So I find it amazing if the book I read manages to do these two things: giving me those emotional punches and/or strikes and being simply unforgettable doesn’t matter if it’s the characters, the story, or just the feels.

    Okay this is getting too long 😂 I’ll stop here.

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    1. i’m glad you can relate! and, ahhh, i really get that. sometimes a book really deserves a half star, but half stars also make everything more complicated 😭😭 i’m better off simply deciding between two whole numbers

      ah, i loved reading about your way of rating! i definitely get that, haha. i almost never rate books 5 stars :””) and 4 stars are becoming rarer and rarer for me. memorability is a common thing in the books i enjoy too!! lately, i find that with most of the books i read, i’m not that invested in the plot or characters, so i don’t really think about them after i read. so when i find myself still thinking about a book months after i read it, i know that i was truly invested & i really enjoyed it!

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  32. Hm I don’t seem to be rating books with stars anymore? Not sure why. But if I loved it, I’ll probably use the words EPIC, AMAZING, GENIUS, WONDERFUL, PERFECT, or MUST-READ. For me, character, world, and plot are all equally important, but sometimes, if two out of three were done so well that it made up for the lacking in the third one, I’ll still love it 😀 I enjoyed this post and reading your honest opinions. Off to see more of your posts now 😀

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