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What Makes a Story a 5-Star Book?

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Earlier today, I sent my friends/blogging partners a copy of an upcoming review. At the end, I noted it would either be a 4.5- or 5-Star rating. Una replied back and asked me 

What is making you, if you can tell me without spoiling the novel, shift between 5 and 4.5?

That got me thinking about how I rate books and what makes a story so special that I give it 5 Stars.  First of all, if you haven’t checked out my rating scale, please do HERE.  I tie my star “number” values to “letter grades,” and a brief description of what the rating means to me. My scale is a bit shifted compared to a lot of others. To me, an average book is a 2.5, not a 3. An absolute wonderful book gets a rating of 4.5 Stars – which is an A.  A 5-Star rating is reserved for only the creme-de-la-creme… it’s an A+.  I don’t give them out very often.
Within each rating step (i.e. 3.5, 4, 4.5) there is variable. For example, not all 3.5-Star books are equal in my eyes.  Using this example, let’s look at a couple of books I’ve reviewed and given a rating of 3.5 Stars: Liked it a lot – recommend (B+).  The books I’ve selected are The Darkest Secret by Gena Showalter and I Dream of Genies by Judi Fennell.  I did enjoy both books. Gena’s book is the seventh novel in one of my favorite series. Judi’s book is the first in a brand new series. Gena’s books are dark and full of sexual hunger and erotic energy. Judi’s book was light and fun.  Both technically Paranormal Romance.  
In the case of Gena’s book, I took a look at the book on its own, but also within the context of the series. It was a good book and a must read because I adore the series, but it wasn’t one of the better books from the series. In my mind, it probably started as a 4, but worked down to a 3.5. I definitely recommend it to other readers, but primarily those that have already started the series.
With I Dream of Genies, I’ve never read any of Judi’s prior work, and had nothing similar with which to compare it.  It started slow, but ended up catching my eye.  It was a 3, but moved up to a 3.5 as the story developed. I felt since it was new to me and a new series, it may have broader appeal to readers. Two books with the same rating, but the ratings take on additional depth once I explain a bit more.
So back to the original question… Why a 4.5 versus 5? This answer holds true for the specific review in question and for anytime I read a really good book.  The biggest difference is the emotional impact of a story.  I have read a lot of books I have loved and highly recommended, but in order to be a 5… it must be a personal favorite. Something that stands high above all other stories. Something that leaves me yearning for more.  That something is an emotional connection to the characters that transcends the story itself – leaves me thinking about the characters long after the story is over.  
Here is the review from a 5-Star book, one of my favorite stories, Seduced by the Storm by Sydney Croft.  Just reading the review takes me back to the story, recalling the emotional impact of several scenes. The authors wove a fantastic tale, but they also gave the characters amazing hearts and put them through just the right amount of drama… *sigh* I laughed, I cried, I sighed, I fantasized (hee hee).
In the case of the review in question, I am waiting to see if I feel the that “something special” about the characters a few days after reading the book.  If I do… it too will get a 5-Star rating.

  • I am the same way with ratings! If you get over a 3 it means I liked your book and would recommend it. I would leave ratings out of it completely if it wasn’t for the fact that it gives people a quick visual on what you thought. On goodreads I tend to round up since I think people there think a 3 is a bad book *sigh*

  • Felicia: I agree… it is frustrating when some folks write off a 3 book. I really enjoy 3 books. To me it’s a good book that maybe had a few issues. Oh well. Goodreads is a whole other story… I wish that they used 1/2 stars. I round down, but in my review put the “real rating.”

  • For me a 3 star or above book means I liked it & would recommend it. I agree with you that to get a 5 star rating the book has to grip me emotionally and make me think about it long after I’ve read it. So I’m pretty stingy about giving out 5 stars because that doesn’t happen often enough.

  • For me a 5 star rating, which I don’t give out often, generally means: a) I couldn’t put it down and b) there is nothing I would like to change in the story. The difference between a 3 and a 4 for me is how much I could discuss the book with a person long after I read the book (i.e. Is it beyond: did you like the book?). 3 is an average rating for me. I would pick it up and read it but I won’t necessarily put it on the top of my reading pile.

  • Una

    I had an “ah-ha” moment when I read your blog. I completely understand and agree. When I do a review, unless I’m doing my “first reactions”, I always wait 24 hours before writing my review, minimum. This allows the book to breath and settle (like a fine wine) in my brain. You’re right, the 5 star books are the ones that stay with me, that borough into me and occasionally “require” me to reread their stories. Or where they continue to play out their lives in my dreams. Yup, those are books that are well written because they are able to take on a life of their own in your imagination.

  • I rate according to whether or not I would re-read a book. A five star I will read again, absolutely no question about it, and I am usually going back to read certain scenes before starting my next read. Four stars means I will most likely read it again. A five-plus book is one I could easily re-read the moment I finish it the first time around.
    You are bang on about the .5 between a 4 and 5. It’s all about the emotion you felt and how strong it was.
    Great post Jen!

  • Hmm..I’m not sure I can put into words the difference between a 4.5 or a 5. I guess a 5 or an A means I have no complaints. And like you said – it has to be really special…hit me emotionally maybe. If I have the urge to make everyone I know read it, it is a 5 🙂

  • Interesting!
    I always start a book at 3 stars and them move up or down depending on the plot, characterization, writing, etc. I’m reading Seduced by the Storm right now and am 60%. So far its a 4 stars. Don’t know yet but it might reach 5 stars by the end.

  • Thanks all for your input. I enjoy learning how others read reviews and review books.

    Lauren… I’d love to chat with you about the ACRO series… I’m curious to know if you’ve read “THE SCENE” that just blew me away. *sigh* I love that series so much!

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