I am extremely picky when it comes to rating books five stars. Okay, not picky-picky, but my expectations are little specific. There have been instances that I gave a book five, then reread it and changed to four or three.
Here’s what it takes for me to give a book five stars; the book needs to teach me something or re-educate me on a topic whilst keeping me entertained and emotionally invested.
Sounds like a tall order but it’s not, sometimes a book doesn’t even need to be well written to achieve this. In June 2019, I had six five-star reads and my mood was fantastic all month. Reading a five-star book is the equivalent of drinking ten cups of water a day, it does wonders for your life.
I asked a couple of other readers what makes them rate a book five stars. These are their answers. (Click on the handle to follow them on Instagram because they are all amazing)
What makes a book 5 stars? A mixture of intimacy and strangeness. Emotional and intellectual electricity. Lines and pages that make me feel as if a glowing orb pulsates between my ribs. Or between my tangled thoughts temporarily smoothed over and chasing new ideas. Books that ask questions. And books that trust the reader enough to not give easy, formulaic answers but rather inspire a quest for seeking answers. Books that capture the richness of the human fabric. Old, universal afflictions depicted on smaller or larger canvases, but always with a new layer of added nuance. Strong writing. Which, of course, is shape-shifting depending on the book, its intentions and universe. Sometimes that can mean lyrical and meandering. Sophisticated and unapologetically introspective. Or brutally stripped-down, almost clinical, making the “clink clink” of a pen hitting bones audible. But usually, whatever the style, strong writing is all-enveloping, ringing in one’s ears with sentences like a loaded gun. Well-oiled. Bursting with meaning. Landing with a thud. Shifting tectonic plates inside me. Aching and healing at the same time.
For me, it would have to leave a lasting impression. One that I wouldn’t be able to shut up about for weeks. I want to be able to go back and reread my favourite parts over and over again without getting tired.
A 5-star book needs to have creativity and coherence. It needs to captivate me from the first sentence so that I don’t have to struggle through a few chapters to find the groove I’m looking for. A good example is Nervous Conditions; it begins with a bang. The ending doesn’t really matter to me. You can break my literal heart but I’ll forgive you because you gave me a good story.
Before I give a book 5 stars, I should be able to connect with it, the book should take me off balance(shouldn’t be basic) and continue to haunt me even after I’m done reading it.
A book must check the following boxes before I give it 5 stars:
- Writing style: Easy to understand without making me check for meanings of new words every now and then
- Character: How are they going to make the story come alive?
Of course, beautiful writing, well-paced, transcendental, character depth and plot intricacies… but for me personally, what sets apart a 5 star read from 4 stars is a book so good that I want to reread it the moment I turn the last page. Shout out to some of my 5-star reads this year; Dragonfly Sea, Black Leopard Red Wolf & Nickel Boys.
- The book has to be engaging: It has to be a story that captivates my attention from start to finish irrespective of the genre.
- Writing style: The writer should have perfect control of their story. The story shouldn’t just be jumping from one part to another without a rhythm.
- Editing: How error-free books are.
- The description of the settings in the book and the amount of research that has been put into it.
- Lastly the cover.
A 5-star book usually leaves me with chills when I get to the last page. Like, there’s this “oh my God!!!!” feeling a 5-star book will give you where you’re simultaneously amazed and in awe of the author, but also feel a little like you’re in love and you want everyone to know. If when you turn the last page, you’re tempted to say aloud “that was amazing,” it could be a 5-star book. In a more practical sense, a book that I can’t put down, that makes me feel deeply but isn’t overdone or manipulative, a book that’s witty and smart with well-developed characters, a book that makes me jealous of how absolutely brilliant the author is… those are things that make me give 5 stars. Lastly, of course, there’s taste. I’ve read books that I can say the author wrote their pants off their butt, but if I don’t LIKE it even though I can see that it’s a good book, it probably won’t get more than 4 stars.
Hmm, 5 stars mean a book has achieved the perfect balance of all its parts. Character, plot, theme, structure, language, etc. Not meaning all of the parts are perfect, but all put together, everything is so cohesive and seamless that I wouldn’t change anything.
The first thing I pay attention to is the writing style. And I keep it in mind until the end of the book. I don’t necessarily look for a complicated writing style or a sophisticated one. My criterium is that the writing style should match the tone of the book. Then depending on the genre of the book, I pay attention to different things. For non-fiction, I make sure the author has done the homework. Then again I don’t do this actively, I just notice based on my information and knowledge. If I have my doubts on a piece of information then I do my research. Sources are also important. Some authors take a lot of information for granted because of their background and don’t quote any sources or shady ones. For fiction, I just go with the flow and see how I like the story because my main goal is to read for pleasure, to entertain myself.
Last but not least, THE COVER. Unfortunately, a lot of books have inappropriate covers or stereotypical racist covers which I cannot stand and that plays a lot in the rating of a book.
For me to give a book 5 stars, it has to draw me in with its narrative. I want to feel the emotions, I want to be in the narrator’s mind. I want to research things I come across. It has to make me pause and have a conversation with people around me concerning the story. The author’s writing style has to be captivating because if a good story is badly written, everything will go awry. That 5-star read has to stay with me and be at the edges of my heart because I’ll always be eager to recommend it.
For fiction books, there are two ways for a book to get 5 stars. It either ticks all my boxes (great storytelling, “relatability”, social commentary and/or relevance, and exquisite language), or it ticks one of those boxes so HARD that I cannot NOT give it a 5🌟.
Simplicity in storytelling. Subtle yet intense in its plot. Do you get me?
5 stars? A strong opening to keep me interested, a memorable and original story, You can always tell from the story that the author’s dug a little deeper. Quality of the storytelling i.e prose and writing style, strong and developed characters.
A GREAT BOOK. For the life of me, I cannot find anything wrong with this book. I couldn’t sleep or put it down. I most likely dreamt about it and still do. Unputdownable! You MUST Read.
For me to give a book 5 stars, it’s got to captivate me totally, I mean the type of book I take everywhere, the bathroom, my bedside, a movie theatre… everywhere. The book I’d snatch minutes to read, the type of book I’m thinking of whenever I’m not reading it, the type of book that I raise my head from and have to blink twice to bring myself back home. It’s hard to have all of these in one book, but when I do….it’s magic 💥💥💥
It takes you outside yourself and shows you the world, but it also leads you inwards, to yourself. A good book climbs into your heart and plants something there. Also helps if the prose is exquisite. Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn comes to mind here.
I’m generally quite clumsy with reviews and hand stars out quite liberally —- but for the purpose of answering this question five stars means that the book beyond doing all the minimum (achieving what it set out to, convincing narration, a genuine attempt at balancing both the content and form, etc) it tried to do something more and in the process of doing something more it didn’t lose out on its effect to move me. Briefly put, any book that completely absorbs me, moves me, makes me happy to have just encountered it. Some of my recent 5-star reads; The Lonely City by Olivia Laing, Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi, How To Be Both by Ali Smith, The Gypsy Goddess by Meena Kandasamy, etc.
The book has to be so amazing that I will still be thinking about it each time I drop it, should be able to paint a picture for me and suck me into the story for me to feel like I am truly in the book (living the book, not just reading it), The characters have to matter to me, they need to draw me in to be fully invested in them. The plot must be absolutely amazing and mind blowing, it will be a book I can reread every time and be one of the first books I will recommend to every single person I see.
5 stars from me means the book captured all my attention right from the beginning, the plot and twists of the story completely blew me away, the writing style, the characterization, depth and development growth. Where I feel everything the character is feeling and it evokes all the emotions from me because the story reads and plays very vividly in my mind. 5 stars from me means the book will always be dear to me and unforgettable.
Good writing and well-developed characters help. A sense of being entertained is nice but unnecessary —maybe I’m impressed by the narrative arc or if I learn something new. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but in my mind as a whole, I wouldn’t change anything about it. That’s my true measurement. As a complete work, the author has managed to immerse me into a world, a story, a character that I appreciate as is.
Hmmm, 5-star ratings are so subjective. Here goes…
- English: I must confess to being a bit of a snob. But it’s what I grew up on – the classics. So, a book has to be well written. Literary fiction type reads.
- Should have some sort of impact on me beyond the “I enjoyed this book.” Almost like a “come to Jesus” moment.
- Has to be memorable: A year from now I should remember the plot progression.
- Throw all the above away: If I laugh from start to finish then 5 stars it is. There is a dearth of comedic writing out there.
A 5-star book gives me a cerebral and visceral response. It should have me looking up stuff online to learn as well as have my emotions running around.
I think, great world-building, engaging characters (including annoying ones) with have background and insight into what makes them the way they are. Dialogue must also be impactful, not too heavy-handed. The plot should move at a good pace as well.
- The book has to have well-developed characters that I can relate to.
- The book has to be gripping: I have to want to read that book everywhere
- The writer has to be socially aware
- A beautiful cover is a plus for me
It is generally an overarching feeling and is so subjective, I just sort of know. And have usually cried and/or hugged the book at the end. I think it is different per genre:
- Mystery/thriller needs to not just fall into the same old stories of violence against women, the killer was abused as a child etc. It needs to have a twist that blows my flipping mind!
- Non-Fiction has to be accessible, and really educate me, make me look at something in a different way than I hadn’t considered without being preachy or condescending (e.g. The Good Immigrant)
- Fiction (and to a certain extent memoir) – it’s all about the people/characters. Give me a quirky character, misunderstood in a hilarious and heartbreaking way (Britt-Marie Was Here) or give me a personal story that teaches me something beautiful about life (When Breath Was Air)
- YA should give me a bit of teenage angst and romance and drama without the annoying side of being a teenager 😂 (We Are Okay) It’s basically all about the FEELINGS.
There you go, Anonymous Author, make me feel some shit. Done.
True to life! Authentic! Now I’m just spitting out words. It needs to feel real, I cry the most when it rings true to me / makes me think of someone I know / something I’ve experienced.
“Humanness” I give a book five stars, only when it’s as human as it should be. The ability for a book to make me see people and have me slip into their skin easily, leaving me with new and old conclusion.. that deserves my five stars.
I’m going to be slightly controversial I’m saying that I don’t believe in the star rating system. I find them arbitrary. As such, I rarely rate books.
So if I had to give a book a five-star rating, the book must have caused a quiet shift, or an intellectual and emotional disequilibrium in a way that reshapes my thinking processes in so far as the themes and (to some extent), the beauty of its writing and narrative structure is concerned.
A 5-star book is a rare thing for me and it’s been a while since I’ve used star ratings on Bookstagram. For me, a 5-star book is one where I connect with the story and/or characters on an emotional and sometimes visceral level. The writing should feel authentic and make me stop and think about the topics/issues raised. It has to be a page-turner and have me hooked, sometimes to the point where I have to cover up the next page so I don’t spoil the story for myself!
I always take into consideration the genre I’m reading at the time.
- For Literature/fiction, I tend to focus more on character development and prose. Being able to get invested in their journey (good or bad) really determines my rating. Also prose / the writing. Some books feel like they’ve been written with a thesaurus. Keep it simple is my motto.
- For fantasy which is the genre, I read often. I take more things into consideration; world-building, magic system, character building, prose.
- Young Adult: Honestly, if this has no love story, isn’t written in that nauseating poetic form. I’m open to giving it five stars just for that.
Usually, I struggle with star ratings because I’m so indecisive but I think you just know a 5-star book when you read it. I’d say it should be memorable. I shouldn’t be able to just put it down and forget about it. It should encourage reflection and contemplation and I want to have been totally absorbed in it.
My answer to this changes every couple of years. As a teenager I was reading to learn, so a book had to give me at least ten new words to add to my vocabulary then I would rate it pretty high. Then it moved to books taking me on a journey, puzzles, mystery. If I failed to predict the ending then it was five stars. Now, a high rating for a book means I forget where I am, I go with the flow, I laugh, I cry, ( taking me through an emotional roller-coaster), rereading some pages because the description of an event/person/place was magnificent. Learning about different cultures, (Lisa See is pretty good at this), language, whether slang or otherwise.
A book can also be a five-star rating just because it surpassed my expectation, this usually happens when I stray from my normal genres. (Finished reading Children Of Blood And Bone last week, great debut. Hopefully book 2 will be better.) Oh. Another 5-star rating is when I get immense feelings for protagonist or character, whether positive or negative, ah, that can get me sometimes. Suspense is everything as well.
I don’t really look for a list of elements objectively, it’s more about how a book makes me feel. It needs to make me feel strong emotions (typically of anger, pain, disgust – I’m a bit of a sadist sometimes) and make me want to grab it at all times. A five-star book is one that gets me obsessed with reading it. Obviously, it takes a certain quality to make me feel like that so it’s about content AND form.
I love a book that makes me frantically Google things, highlight lots of passages and makes me feel the need to tell people about it.
I care about vibrant storytelling, also magical realism and puzzling endings are a plus.
If I absolutely love a book and it’s made me feel all the emotions but it has elements that I deem problematic or bothersome, then I have to downgrade to four stars. Such elements I can’t overlook include things like a transpiring white feminism ideology or islamophobia.
When I’m reading a 5 star (fiction) read I literally see the book play out as a movie in my head. I don’t have to force myself to pick it up once I put it down.
If the book gives me a physical reaction (laugh, cry, scream, cringe) then I know it deserves 5 stars.
That’s an impossible question to answer though, you just KNOW when a book is 5 stars, it doesn’t need explaining, you just know because you can feel it.
It has to dance with my emotions. It must make me feel like I am in that scene, that moment.
5-star books are my favourites. Quite frankly, I hardly pay attention to the writing style, the techniques used, the length of the book or the fancy metaphors. 5-star books transport me to their worlds on a complete roller-coaster ride of emotions. Every word touches my heart, kicks me in the guts and eventually changes my perspective. Ultimately, 5 stars books stay with me forever.
I’m not too hard to please, if I find it hard to put a book down once I start and the reading just flows, I can’t stop thinking about it even when I’m not reading, that’s 5 stars for me right there 👌🏾
I’m an easy 5 stars giver. Did it do what it set out to do beautifully? Did it take me where I wanted to go? Did it make me feel? Great. I’m very selective about what I read so five stars are easy to give. I give them often.
I look at different things. The plot, character development, pacing and how it makes me feel. I don’t really put too much importance on writing style.
If a book has a really nice and interesting plot, characters that are properly developed throughout the book and make me want to read more about them (don’t care if it’s a villain or a hero), a slow pacing or fast-paced but action-filled and more importantly if it makes me feel a spectrum of emotions, then I’ll give it five stars. Nowadays, I hardly give books five stars though, mostly 4 and 4.5 stars.
A book has to have my full attention from the beginning to the end. The pressure! I know. A five star read not only has my attention but is one that is memorable, hard to forget and easy to read.
For a book to truly be a 5-star read, it has to have different components that add up to something that gets me excited because it’s that good. It may not objectively be the best book ever, but the writing will be solid. The story will be well-structured, interesting, and compelling. The characters are usually likeable and I care about them. Then, there just has to be that little bit of extra magic that gets me emotionally or is just amazing from an artistic/creative point of view. Basically, it just has to have it all, plus a pinch of stardust.
A 5-star review from me is not only about what the book does but what form my response takes. The book should marry form, concept, prose, and voice into a near overwhelming, unique, transformative, self- and world-clarifying experience…that I can articulate to myself and others. That, in some sense, is quantifiable. The Old Drift may end up my best 2019 read but I left it unrated on Goodreads because it will take (at least) a re-read for me to begin to understand Serpell’s magnum opus. Some books are beyond star ratings.
The book has to be well written, with an engaging and immersive plot. I usually need to feel some kind of emotional (or visceral) connection. The writing doesn’t have to be flawless, for me, a 5-star rating is less technical execution; more readability/good story. I’ll usually want to re-read it and will recommend it all the time.
My five-star ratings are determined by two things. First, how much the book moved me (which is rather subjective but works for me). How much it challenged my thought process or my view of the world or how it made me feel. And second, the language (which is closely tied to the first point). Good strong language does wonders to even the most basic of stories. Language envelopes me completely and transports me to a place where I am completely in my own world oblivious to all that is around me.
There you have it! What are the main factors that make you rate a book five stars? Are they the same as ours? Do you find yourself to be a very critical or more gentle rater? How often do you give out five-star ratings?
For more literary musings and bookish features, share this post and subscribe below!