April 4, 2019
What Are the Elements of a 5 Star Read?
Wow! This is a subjective question, and I’ll offer a subjective response!
Do you rate the books you read on Goodreads using the Five Star Rating System? At times, it can be a daunting task that requires extensive deliberation. While I’m certain you have developed your own criteria, I’d love to share mine with you in this post. When I finally award that elusive 5 Star rating, I’m likely to consider most, if not all, of the following ten factors:
Just as first impressions are important, how quickly a book engages me is important. I’m not saying that books with slower starts don’t have a chance of receiving five stars, but the remainder of the book has to really sell me. One example of a book that was slow to grab me but ended up five stars is A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza. My review here. Sometimes the quality of the writing and complexity of the story begs you to trust the author.
For me, thoughtful and important themes are essential for a five star endorsement. Themes are often the most important part of my reading experience as they allow me to make important connections with the story. My favorite stories involve ordinary people doing extraordinary things in the most difficult circumstances. One example of a five star read with thought provoking themes is From Sand and Ash by Amy Harmon. My review here.
Well Drawn Characters
I love stories whose characters feel like real people and with whom I can make emotional connections. Stereotypical characters are five star killers for me. One example of a story with memorable characters is Beartown by Fredrik Backman . My brief review here (scroll down page).
Quirky or Differently Abled Characters
If you tell me a story includes a quirky character or a character working hard to live her or his best life despite a disability, I’m captivated by that. Some of my five star reads featuring quirky characters have included A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (not reviewed) and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (brief review here …scroll down page).
Quaint Settings and a Community Spirit
I love picturing myself in a quaint English seaside village where community members look out for each other and “everyone knows your name.” Add a bookstore for the win! One example of a book that features a quaint setting and welcoming/supportive community is Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer (not reviewed).
Beautiful Writing and Story Structure
I love well written stories that include carefully constructed sentences, beautiful word choices, and creative figurative language. Often, beautiful writing is more character driven than plot driven and I have difficulty awarding five stars (looking at you Gentleman in Moscow and All the Light We Cannot See). In addition to beautiful prose, the story’s structure needs to make sense and not lead to confusion for the reader. I’m an ambitious reader and can handle multiple perspectives and dual timelines, so I know that if I’m having difficulty that it’s not going to be a five star read for me. One example of a great story with mediocre writing is The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris. My review here. The story had so much potential but the writing caused me to award this four stars rather than five. If I were only considering the engaging content, story line, and plot/pacing, it would be a five star read. However, five star reads really need to have it all. An example of a complicated story structure which didn’t detract from a five star rating for me is Homegoing by Yaa Gaysi (not reviewed).
Pacing and Plot Considerations
For reading enjoyment, I need a story that has a good pace. For this reason I’ve discovered that I really do prefer plot driven stories more than character driven. Even though there are some character driven stories that I truly appreciate, they need some plot for me to consider five stars. One example of an exquisitely written character driven story is Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. Goodreads review here. Many readers have given this five stars, and even though the very end of the story becomes faster paced, I decided on four stars rather than five. An example of a riveting page turner is Refugee by Alan Gratz (MG). My review here.
Historical Fiction or Family Drama or Literary Fiction (or your fav genre)
It’s not a surprise for readers of my reviews that my favorite genre is historical fiction closely followed by family drama and literary fiction. I love to combine learning with reading enjoyment, and I enjoy the poignancy and complexity of family drama. One genre that I’ve found I typically do not enjoy is chick lit with its predictable tropes, stereotypical characters, and insta love. Reading in your favorite genre greatly increases the likelihood of a five star read! One example of a five star histfic (which also includes family drama!) is My Dear Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie. My review here. An example of a five star family drama is Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. My Review Here. (A Place For Us is a 5+ Star Rating for family drama but I’ve already mentioned it above).
Wow Factor and Book Hangover
When I finish a book and think “Wow” That was a great read!” I’m more likely to give that book a five star rating. These are the books that give me a “book hangover” …. which means I’m thinking about it hours, days, and weeks later and may have difficulty starting another book right away. The last book I read that gave me a book hangover is A Place For Us. It shattered my five star scale because of the emotional connections I made during the reading (thanks Diana for reminding me!).
Recommendable and Rereadable
Finally, a five star read is one that I recommend to everyone (for years to come) with no hesitation or qualifications. It’s a “must read” book and a book that I’d like to reread some day! One book I’ve been recommending for years is Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. My review here.
For me, Five Star reads are exceptional in every way. If I have one qualifying thought about my recommendation, then that five star potential is usually lowered to 4.5 Stars. Sometimes on Goodreads, I will round my 4.5 up to five stars if I really loved it because Goodreads doesn’t have an option for half stars; however, I know in my mind that a 4.5 isn’t a FULL five star read and comes with at least one qualification.
I’ve had reviewer buddies and friends rate one of my five star reads one or two stars. This hurts momentarily! However, let me mention again that rating books is highly subjective and no two readers read the same book.
I’d Love to Hear From You!
How do you rate five star reads?
What’s the last book you rated five stars?