Lately, I’ve been trying to streamline my ratings system – I even added a Ratings Guide and went back through and rethought some of my past Goodreads ratings. Now that I actually have a review blog, I really want to keep some form of consistency, but there are a lot of factors that go into how I rate and review books. I thought this post might be helpful and give you a better understanding of my reviewing methods and what I look for in a book.
The first thing I look at is the story or plot. I like stories that are creative and unique. I try to read a wide variety of genres, so I don’t really care what the story is most of the time, as long as its interesting and not too formulaic. I also try to look for plot holes or glaring inconsistencies, because those can really make a good story fall apart fast. I also look at the story arc as a whole over the book. This is someplace where tradition is good: hero story arcs will never go out of style. I also appreciate a good cliffhanger (I’m still reeling from Pierce Brown’s Golden Son), but first the author needs to make me interested enough to care. There are several cliffhangers I’ve read where I don’t care about the characters or story enough to keep reading. Bottom line: it needs to be interesting and different.
The second thing I pay attention to is the characters. I’m not a fan of cookie-cutter characters. They’re boring. I love intelligent characters. That said, I don’t like “intelligent” characters who do stupid things – the author shouldn’t have to tell their readers that their character is smart. I’ve seen several authors repeat throughout their book how genius their character is, and then their character turns around and acts like an immature twelve-year-old – that doesn’t work for me. This is one case where it’s always a good idea to follow the traditional writing advice of showing, not telling. I also appreciate good well-written characters who are not smart, but who serve a purpose (Gilderoy Lockhart comes to mind). I also like my characters to have flaws – no one’s perfect – and think unconventional flaws are really great (i.e. Don Tillman in The Rosie Project, Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice, or Charlie Gordon in Flowers for Algernon). And I love me a good villain! I like them smart and dimensional – I want to at least wonder why they are the way they are (Voldemort is a great example). I also look for some sort of character development – I’m fine with characters making mistakes, just not the same ones for three books straight.
I also look at the writing. Some of my favorite books are favorites simply because of the beautiful writing (i.e. The Night Circus, Red Rising, Neverwhere). Bad or clunky writing can really detract from a good story. I recently attempted to read a book with a very interesting plot, but couldn’t get through it because the writing was just terrible. There is an art to crafting sentences, and as I study it for use in my own writing, I’ve become much more critical as a reader.
After reading a book, I think about how all three elements blend together. Maybe the magic elements in a book are incredibly creative and the story is interesting, but the writing isn’t all that great. Or the writing is fantastic, but the characters are flat. Sometimes, it just doesn’t work.
And finally, I do rely on how a book made me feel. The purpose of art is to excite some emotion, regardless of what that emotion is. There are books I love with characters I hated, not because they were badly written or formed characters, but because they were both evil and well-written. There have been a few books I know, objectively, aren’t the best, but for some reason, I just really enjoyed reading them. Usually my enjoyment of a book depends on the plot, characters, and writing, but sometimes, I can’t quite explain why I liked or didn’t like a book. I decided when I started this blog that I was going to let my personal feelings color my reviews (while remaining as objective as possible), because you can get a summary anywhere. I like reviews with a bit of personality.
My ratings are a blend of the above factors, and I try to explain the logic behind them in each review post. Please don’t hesitate to ask for more information about what I thought about a particular book, and I won’t be the least bit upset if you disagree with me – I’m always up for a good literary argument. Hopefully this post gave your a bit more insight into how I approach books, and I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments! Thanks for reading!