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. 😔
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 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.
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.
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??”.
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*.
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!!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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. :”(