I’ve been hearing a lot about ratings in the book community lately. And I’ve seen some things being said that I don’t think are accurate, or really fair to those of us who take the time to rate and review books (whether or not they have a big platform to do so). Reading is a personal experience, so rating and reviewing books is, too.

I think longtime readers of this blog are relatively familiar with my reading tastes, and can discern whether or not they’re going to like a book I liked. Or dislike a book I didn’t enjoy. And if you love a book I hated, that’s fine, too. Everyone has different reading tastes, which is kind of a wonderful thing. How boring would the world be if we all read and liked the same books?

If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking. – Haruki Murakami

There are always going to be disagreements about books, and books that are controversial. But what I really don’t agree with is the idea that anything less than a five-star rating is bad. Guess what? A three- or four-star book is still a good book. Say it with me: a three-star book is a good book. It’s just not an amazing book, and that’s totally fine.

Not every book is great

I read a lot of books, and the more I read, the tougher I am with my ratings. I just have more to compare to. I also try to be honest with my ratings. I’m fully aware of how many people read my reviews and may take them into account when deciding what to read or which books to spend their money on. I owe it to you to not be misleading. I’m not going to rate a book five stars just because it was sent to me by the author or publisher. If that book is a five-star book, sure. But I think my opinions are more trustworthy if I give books honest ratings and reviews.

Generally, if I give a book four stars, I still really enjoyed it and highly recommend it. But it wasn’t a book I thought about long after I put it down. A Little Life has been in the back of my mind for years, and I can’t stop thinking about The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. Those books got five stars because they blew me away and affected who I am as a reader. Not all books can be five-star books. And sometimes, I don’t want to read a five-star book. Sometimes, I just want a light, easy, fun read. And if that’s a three- or four-star book, that’s perfectly acceptable. The vast majority of books I read end up being three- and four-star reads, and I’m totally happy with that.

You shouldn’t feel bad about not loving a book

Recently, I saw another reviewer discuss how a publisher was “surprised [she] was interested in the sequel, seeing as how she didn’t like the first book”. She gave the first book in that series four stars. As did I, and I wasn’t approved for the sequel on NetGalley. Which is not cool (and prompted me to write this post). Four-stars is a perfectly acceptable rating. And if the reason I wasn’t approved by that publisher for another book is that I handed out a four-star rating, I don’t think that’s okay. I’ve given books I’ve received for review everything from five stars to one star. Book reviewers shouldn’t feel pressure to give biased reviews.

Ok, I’ll end my rant here. I hope you all know it’s okay to think what you think about any book, and it’s not okay for anyone (even the publisher or author) to make you feel guilty about not liking a book. Your opinions and ratings are 100% valid. End of story.

If you’re curious, you can check out my ratings guide, which is VERY similar to the one built in to Goodreads (just hover over the stars, and it’ll tell you).

What do you think about rating books? Is this something only book bloggers have trouble with, or does it affect the reading community as a whole? Have you ever felt pressure to inflate a book’s rating? And is rating even helpful, or something we should continue to do? Let’s discuss in the comments!

22 thoughts

  1. A four star book is a good read, I thought. It is not practically perfect in every way, like the five star book though.

    1. Exactly! I’ve just seen a lot of negativity lately over four-star and three-star reads. Just because they aren’t five-star books doesn’t mean they’re not good. I’ve loved plenty of four-star reads, even if they weren’t perfect.

  2. Great post! I didn’t even know that some people (publishers) would think that a 4-star rating isn’t good enough.
    Just like you, the more I read and review, harder it gets for me to give 5 stars to books. There is always something missing to push it through that threshold. But 4 (or even 3) stars still mean that it’s a good read.

    1. Thanks! I’ve seen it happen quite a bit lately, which is sad. I even saw an author’s sister attack a reviewer on Goodreads, once. I completely agree – a four star or three star book is still a good book. Even if I know a book probably isn’t going to be a five-star read, I can still read and enjoy it.

  3. Loved this topic! For me, the difference between a four and a five rating is a visceral feeling. If at that moment I finish a book and I had an emotional gut reaction to it. A four star is a great book that I enjoyed but lacked that gut reaction. A three star is a good book that I enjoyed but wasn’t as good as a four or five. Most of my reviews are four stars for this reason.

    1. Thank you! And same! I completely agree with that distinction. Sometimes, there’s just something missing, even though a loved a book. The vast majority of my reads are three of four stars. I’ve gotten better at picking out books that’ll be five star reads for me, but more often than not, I give books four stars.

  4. I agree! It’s something I struggled with for a long time which is why I include half stars in my book reviews. For example the book I’m reading now is probably a 3 Star or 3.5 Star read and it’s good! I just am not head over heels in love with it so I’m not giving it higher than a 3.5.

    1. Me too! I do occasionally include half-star ratings in my reviews, but not often (it’s hard to figure out if I should round up or down on Goodreads). It’s definitely a struggle, and something I have to think about a lot now that I’m aware of how many people see my ratings, because I don’t want to be misleading.

  5. I’m like you in that the more I read the harder it is for me to hand out a lot of 5 stars (at least on Goodreads) since I don’t use stars on my blog.

    I just signed up on Netgalley, so I don’t have a lot of experience with them yet, but I do agree that it’s unfair if not getting approved for a sequel is because you didn’t rate it five stars. I would think that publishers would want a wide variety of readers and opinions for their books. Sometimes I’m wary of books that are only getting 5 stars (no idea why really).

    Great post!

    1. Thanks!

      NetGalley is definitely a different animal. You’ll probably end up requesting too many books like the rest of us haha. But I agree, publishers should value reviewers who give honest opinions.

      I recently reviewed an ARC and gave it 1 star, and most of the reviews on Goodreads are five stars. It’s not even out yet. Even the reviewers who didn’t really like it gave it 4 stars. We’ll see if I get another book from that publisher in the future…

      1. Probably! Luckily for this first time going in, I only tried for three or four and got approved for two. I didn’t want to do too many since I have a lot of books waiting on my physical shelf.

        That’s so interesting and definitely annoying. I wonder if that’s why some of those reviewers still gave 4 stars?

        1. I got used to that in the beginning and requested like six or seven, thinking I might get three or four, and I got ALL of them. Definitely learned my lesson.

          And maybe. It was actualy published by the same publisher that inpired this post, so I’m kind of curious to see what happens if I request another book from them.

  6. Great post!! You make a lot of good points. Particularly that 3 and 4 stars are not bad books! I know I am a super lenient rater and I give a lot of 5 stars, but I figure it all evens out against the super strict readers who rarely give 5s. Everyone has their own way of rating and publishers need to accept and encourage that!! Honest reviews are sooo important!!! Tho I have been pressured to push a book up a rating a couple times (a friend knows the author and wanted me to read their book) and it sucks and I try not to do it, but I’m only human.

    1. Thank you! Everyone is allowed to rate books their own way. And I’ve definitely gotten tougher the longer I’ve been blogging. I’ve been guilty of being a bit too generous in my early year or so of this blog, because it just felt so nice to get free books! I don’t think I’d feel comfortable reviewing the book of someone I knew for that exact reason. It’s one of the many reasons I don’t really share my blog with anyone I know in real life. It’s kind of freeing to keep it seperate.

  7. I don’t star rate my books when reviewing, but I think it’s insane to imagine all your reviews can be 5 stars… To me that is a practically perfect book and they don’t come along very often. But a book doesn’t need to be fun or enjoyable, or even to have an important message. The perfect book for me at a certain time, may be perfect for what I need but when reviewing it objectively it might still not be 5 stars. I feel like the majority of books I read or review would fall into the 3 or 4 star category. Only a few could be condidered 5 stars.

    1. Same here! I do rate my books because 1) it helps me remember what I thought about a book years later (and I don’t review every single book I read, but I do rate them on Goodreads) and 2) I’m guessing a lot of people skim my reviews and just check out the rating.

      I don’t trust people who rate all the books five stars. I also don’t trust new releases that have only five-star ratings. There are a lot of good books out there, but not all of them are perfect.

  8. Thank you for this post ! For me, a 5 star book is excellent and I can’t stop thinking about it, 4 is really good and I enjoyed it a lot, and wouldn’t mind reading it again, and 3 is still pretty good – I think I might put this scale on the side of my blog, just so people know that a 4 star book isn’t a bad rating for me 🙂

    1. Thank you! I completely agree – I have a whole page on my blog (under the book reviews tab). I’m not sure anyone reads it, but it’s there!

  9. Completely agree. I think it is perspective. For me, 4 is really good, 4.5 is is amazing. 5 is only reserved for my favourites. 🙂

    1. Thanks! I’m the same way. Even a 3-star book is good. Just not amazing. Not sure how the perspective got skewed so much. I feel like a lot of people are afraid to be honest because they don’t want to be perceived as too critical or too harsh.

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