How Do I Rate My Books?

A lot of people rate books by different scales, and it often produces confusion as to how good the reviewer actually thinks the book is. For some people, 3 stars is pretty good, but for other it is rather poor. Some reviewers give out 5 stars more readily than others. So this page is my reference to what my reviews actually mean.

The following checklist contains things that I take into account when rating a book:

  • The hype surrounding a book
  • My expectations of the book/author
  • The writing ability of the author
  • How unique/original the idea is
  • The predictability
  • The memorability of the book
  • Whether it evokes an emotion from me
  • My satisfaction with the route that the plot takes
  • The characterisation/development
  • The accuracy of facts/figures/historical data
  • A comparison to similar books/other books of the same genre
  • A comparison to other work by the same author
  • If it is a sequel, then how it ranks with the other books in the series
  • How long it takes me to get through it/ whether I am gripped by it
  • Whether it meets the general requirements for its genre (e.g. contemporary – realistic or crime – unpredictable)
  • Whether the book has a good moral message

I will use this list to come up with a requirement for each level of rating. To achieve one rating, it must meet all (or at least 90%) of the requirements for that star. If a book falls between two stars and I cannot justify it to be wholly one or another, it will receive a half-star or quarter-star rating; when reviewing in full on here, I will allow .25, .5 or .75 ratings, but I will always round them to the full star I feel is appropriate for my Goodreads score, which I state in brackets next to the proper score (.25 ratings are always rounded down, .75 ratings rounded up, and .5 ratings can be rounded either way as I feel is fit). Taking all of this into account, here are the definitions I use to justify what rating to give a book:


My ‘Favourite Reads’ Shelf

On Goodreads, I have a ‘favourite reads’ list. To qualify for this list, the book must have a 5 star rating (not a 4.75 or the like). It must 100% meet every point that I will outline in my 5 star definition, with no exceptions. It must also be very memorable; it has to be a book that months (or years) down the line, I will recall what happened, how much I loved it and why. It must evoke some pretty strong emotions from me (tears of sadness or happiness help!) as that proves that I can really associate with what the book is trying to say. I must also be able to identify some strong themes and moral messages within the text. Books from my childhood which mean a lot to me can be found on this shelf. I try to limit books on my ‘favourite reads’ shelf to those which I am really fond of, and I will regularly check the shelf, so that if I have books on there which I am unsure of anymore, they will be removed.


An overall brilliant book. I’m not stingy with handing out 5 star ratings. To achieve a 5 star rating, a book has to stand out when compared to other books of its genre; it has to stick in my mind as something special. It does not necessarily have to be the most unique idea in the world (although originality is required in at least some aspects of the story), but it has to be an idea that I can invest in. It has to meet all general requirements for its genre, and if it has any historical elements, it must be accurate. I must understand (if not completely agree with) the route that the storyline takes, I have to feel attached to a decent amount of the characters (not all! I am allowed to despise a few of them!) and these characters have to be well characterised. The writing must be pretty good and the book must meet or exceed my expectations. The writing should have some kind of message or moral idea. If it is a hyped book, I have to be able to see the reason for the hype, and agree with it. I have to have either been invested in the book the entire way through, or there is a point before the half way mark where I’m completely drawn into the story, and from that point on I am completely invested. It can be predictable at times, but there must be multiple points where I am shocked or surprised at the route the story takes. I must be able to remember most of the complex occurrences of the book and be able to explain them sufficiently to another person for a substantial amount of time after reading (ergo it is memorable to an extent). Sequels should live up to the previous books (if not exceed them) and stand-alones and final instalments should feel complete, with no loose ends (unless the story requires it). I must be able to whole-heartedly recommend this book.


An overall good/great book. The book has to be a good example of its genre, but not necessarily stand out. It has to be an idea I can invest in (whether original or not), and it has to meet the general requirements of a book of its genre, and any historical aspects must be accurate. I must understand the route the story progresses down. I must have an attachment to at least one character, and not hate the majority of them. There must also be a good sense of characterisation. The writing must be good and the book must meet my expectations. The book should have some strong themes and messages (or at least a purpose to the audience). If it is a hyped book, it must deserve a good degree of praise, and I must be able to see why there is a great deal of hype surrounding it, even if I do not completely agree. I have to have been invested in the book throughout, or at least have been completely invested for a time which makes up at least 50% of the book. It can be predictable, but there must be some elements which surprise me. I must be able to remember some of the complex occurrences and be able to explain them sufficiently to another person for a while after reading (ergo it has elements of memorability). Sequels of better/similarly-rated books should either live up to the previous books or provide a good segway into the next instalment, and stand-alones and final instalments should feel complete, with no loose ends (unless the story requires it). I must be able to recommend this book to a general audience.


An overall rather average book. The book has to be a typical example of its genre, and has to meet some of the genre’s typical requirements. It has to be an idea which is consistent throughout, if not mildly enjoyable. The story must follow a vague sense of direction in most places. I must find the majority of the characters to be tolerable, and there must be a sense of development for at least one of the characters. The writing must be competent and the book should not stray too far from my expectations (in a negative way). If it is a hyped book, I must be able to see why there is a great deal of hype surrounding it, even if I do not agree at all. I have to have been able to read the book without skimming it, with some phases of interest, but I may have had a few phases of disinterest or struggled to complete it at times. There may have been confusion in certain places, but it would not be a persistent issue.  There are no attempts at moral messages or strong themes, or if this is attempted, the ideas are generally strong, but can be skewed in places. The story may start well, and have a very drastic decrease by the end of the novel. I must be able to recall the basic occurrences of the book, and give a substantial synopsis to another person for a while after reading. Sequels of better-rated books should not be drastically worse than their predecessors, but would not live up to expectations. Stand-alones and final instalments may end in a disappointing but not disastrous manner, and will have few loose ends (unless the story requires it), or at least a general sense of closure. I may recommend this book to a select audience, but would not rave about it.

My ‘Can’t Decide Whether I Like Or Not’ Shelf

This is another shelf on Goodreads which I use as an alternate rating system, such as my ‘favourite reads’ shelf. The books on this shelf all have 3 stars (the rating for an all-round ‘average’ book) but they are books which I have serious issues with, yet cannot bear to place them in my ‘least favourite books’ shelf. These books all have a lot of problems, but I tend to appreciate them as a book too much to give them 2 stars. If I were to truly rate most of these, rather than using full stars, they would mostly have 2.75 or 3 stars – no more, no less. There are quite a few first books in series on this shelf; I place them here as I am not ruling out returning to the series, but I was not convinced the first time around. There are also sequels and companion novels to some of my all-time favourite series in here, purely as I was not satisfied with their outcomes, however the actual book from an objective point of view is worth a lot more. It is hard to justify how I put books into this category, but I tend to know immediately upon finishing whether the book will go here or not, and I do not think through it as much as I would do for the ‘favourite reads’ shelf.

My ‘Disliked But Not Least Favourites’ Shelf

Quite simply, this shelf is comprised of all of the 1, 2 and 3 star books which I disliked either mildly or intensely, but are not so hated that they belong on my ‘least favourite books’ shelf. These books tend to be ones that I really did not enjoy, yet do not have any strong (negative) opinions on, so are therefore just rather bad books that I do not care for.


An overall less-than average/poor book. This book retains general aspects of its genre, but is not an average-standard example of the genre. Its plot is inconsistent in multiple places, and the sense of direction is limited. The characters are all dull at best, with many being negative characters, and there is a visible lack of character development. The writing is barely competent, verging on poor in places, and the book in no way meets my expectations. If it is a hyped book, I would not understand why the book has the level of hype that it does. I may have skim-read parts of the book (not all), or had issues with completion at times. I would be hard-pressed to explain the basic plot in its entirety, and I may have been confused by a great deal of the story. Any moral messages present are skewed or just generally wrong, but there are often none present. Sequels of better-rated books would be incredibly disappointing, if not infuriating. Stand-alones and final instalments would have multiple unnecessary loose ends and would give a limited sense of closure. I would not recommend this book at all.


An incredibly bad book. This book contains little to no recognisable or commendable aspects of its genre. Its plot is inconsistent or incomprehensible throughout, and there is little to no direction. The majority of the characters are negative or unsavoury characters with barely any development (if there is any development at all). The writing is poor to abysmal, and the book is a huge disappointment, to the point of anger. If it is a hyped book, I would have severe problems with the amount of hype it is achieving. There are moral messages present, but these messages are completely against my beliefs, and I have an incredibly negative response to what the book is trying to say. I skim-read large portions of the book, and had serious issues with completion. I could not explain the basic plot at all, and would be immensely confused by the story as a whole. Sequels of better-rated books would rarely get this rating if they bore any resemblance to their predecessors (sequels of 2 or 3 star rated books would achieve this by not living up to the previous books, but sequels of higher rated books would have to be incredibly shocking to get this rating). Stand-alones and final instalments would give no sense of closure. I would actively advise against reading this book.

My ‘Least Favourite Books’ Shelf

The clue is in the title: this is the shelf where I group all of my least favourite books. This shelf is typically comprised of 1 or 2 star rated books, but there is the occasional 3 star book which I do not like enough to consider putting it on my ‘can’t decide whether I like or not’ or ‘disliked but not least favourites’ shelves, yet do not want to dock a star from its rating. It is important to note that this shelf contains some, but not all, of my 1 or 2 star rated books; I do not put short stories or novellas on this shelf very often, just as I do not really look at them in the same way I do full-length books. It also does not contain books which I read and rated a long time ago and cannot remember. However, in general, most of my lower-rated books can be found grouped on this shelf or on my ‘disliked but not least favourites’ shelf.

.25, .5 and .75 ratings can be achieved by meeting certain amounts of criteria for the next star available, but not enough to earn that star overall.

Twitter – @emmathereader

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