Stories that Matter

Writing A Review – What Makes The Difference For You?

 Being the curious being that I am, I’m always asking questions. Always asking “Why?” “Why’d you do that?” “Why’d you say that?” “Why in the heck are you wearing that…” Okay, I digress.

As an author, a published author since March 2011, I’ve had to curtail my obsession with the why questions, because sometimes I’m just not going to get any answers. I know that I’m one of the lucky ones – most of the reviews of Yesterday’s Tomorrow have been very positive. For that I’m eternally grateful. So is my husband. This has saved him years of therapy. Mine. All bills go to him. But you know, as reviews come in and I look at the four or three star reviews hiding in amongst the five star reviews that I read over and over and over again, I just can’t help myself. I have to ask. “Why?”

What makes the difference between a four and five star review?
Okay, I know there are those that decry the whole star rating system. Bully for you. But This Is A Blog About Books (just incase you’re like me and walk into a room and forget where you are a minute later). What else do you want us to talk about if we don’t talk about books?

Seriously, I love to read. But I’m honest. If I don’t whizz through the pages, dying to get to the next one, read way after my bedtime, knowing I’m going to regret it in the morning, if I can’t stop thinking about the characters long after the last page is turned, that is a book that will remain with me. That is a book that gets five stars from me. Those are the kinds of books I love to read. The kinds of books I hope to write.

If I ‘enjoy’ the story, like the characters, happy with the outcome, but it just doesn’t have that same tug on my heart, you all know what I mean, I’ll give it a four. And then I start to get antsy. Threes, twos and – gasp – one star reviews just ain’t perty. Nobody likes getting them. Unfortunately, I do believe some people enjoy giving them.

I’ve read a lot of books. A lot of good books. Some bad books. If I see the writing on the wall within the first few chapters, i.e. the book sucks and I’m going to hate it no matter which way you slice it…I probably won’t finish it. I hate doing it, because I’m a writer too. I know that somebody out there put their heart and soul into that pile of paper, and maybe some people will love it. I just won’t be one of them. Do I write a review of those books? Sometimes. Sometimes not. Sometimes it’s just best to walk away and say nothing, know what I mean?

Okay, so I want to know – how do you decide what makes a ‘good book’, a five star ohmygoshyouhavetoreadthisrightnow book, and what’s just a ‘ho hum’, good writing so I’ll give it a four, book. Or I know the author and I don’t want to hurt her feelings so I’ll give it a four because I just can’t give it a five…(knowing the author of the book you’re rating is a tough one, isn’t it?)

So what makes the difference for you?

Speak to me…


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  1. Sherri Wilson Johnson on November 1, 2011 at 10:07 pm

    A five star book, to me, is one that I can’t put down. I will neglect my other duties for this book. I will read it while I’m drying my hair, while I’m cooking one-handed, while I’m sitting in the car waiting to pick up my son. A four star is one that I enjoy but I can save it for bedtime reading. A three star and under is one that I forget about. One that I said I’d read but would rather take a trip to the dentist than read. A book has many facets (characters, setting, plot, etc.) that draw me in and keep my attention…or lose me.

    • Cathy West on November 1, 2011 at 10:18 pm

      Great analysis, Sherri! I agree. It’s those books you carry around with you just incase you get a moment to read…love them!!

  2. vnesdoly on November 1, 2011 at 10:39 pm

    First, congratulations on the publication of your book!

    As for starring books, I reserve 5 stars for books where the writing knocks my socks off, and 3 for books that have some obvious flaws (IMHO). Most of the rest get 4s. I rarely give 2 stars or lower. When I struggle most is times when I have agreed to review a book in a genre I don’t care for.

    • Cathy West on November 2, 2011 at 12:14 pm

      Thanks for commenting! I find it hard to give 2 stars or lower, but sometimes, thankfully rarely, I do find a book that I just don’t like and feel I need to let others know so they don’t waste their time, but that doesn’t happen often!

  3. bonnie leon on November 2, 2011 at 1:48 am

    Cathy, I love this blog. Starring books is sometimes confusing and it’s an interesting topic. If I need to give a book less than three stars I don’t rate it. And if I couldn’t finish it I don’t mention that either.

    Generally I give five stars to books exactly like you described, those extra special stories that have it all–the ones that grip me around the throat and hold my attention until the last page and remain with me after I put them down. Usually five stars also requires sterling writing. However, I have given five stars to books with “okay” writing because they told a special story or revealed something to me that alterred my thinking and my life.

    • Cathy West on November 2, 2011 at 9:26 am

      Hi Bonnie!
      I wonder where the whole starring thing came from anyway? I guess it’s suppose to give readers a frame of reference, and they do the same for movies. But since fiction is so subjective anyway, I always err on the side of caution when reading reviews. I’m pleased when I see a lot of people saying good things about a book, that means I’ll probably enjoy it. But just recently I picked up a new book by an author I’d read before, loved the first book, but couldn’t finish the second. There was nothing in it that made me want to keep reading. Yet a lot of people love it and it seems to be doing well! So you never know. In that case I chose NOT to review it. 🙂

  4. ausjenny on November 2, 2011 at 4:05 am

    For me a five star is a book I love, dont want to put down and makes me think about it for ages after. A book like Stealing Jake by Pam Hillman made me think that the book could be set today as the same issues still happen. Four stars is still a very good book but not the best read of the year.
    I dont give many 3 stars but it would be one that I didn’t connect with as much and had characters that annoy me or I cant relate to. I dont give 2 or 1 stars as if I cant get into the book in the first chapter or two I normally wont finish the book. Also if its got language I cant handle I wont read it. this happened this year with an american book with a british character who used a word that in Australia is a word Christians dont say. I couldn’t read it. It was for a blog tour and I finally put a note alerting aussies to the language but saying that to americans it wasn’t a problem.

    I dont understand the 1 stars either as it seems so many come from people who got a book free and then feel they have to trash the book and author. I find it annoying and rather rude.

    • Cathy West on November 2, 2011 at 9:30 am

      Hi Jenny! Sometimes our different cultures do create problems! I had this issue a lot when I first starting writing. In Bermuda we’re under the British education system, and I spent two years in England, so I say a lot of things that might not be familiar to an American reader. My critique partners were constantly pointing out words that they didn’t know or understand!! I do my best now to write without those little sayings that nobody understand but me, sometimes a few slip out!! Harsh language is a different matter entirely. I am sure there are big differences there!

  5. Richard Mabry on November 2, 2011 at 9:57 am

    I agree with you and the other commenters about what constitutes a five star book. Some people just don’t like to give five stars, so they only give four, tops. I don’t think that’s fair, but then again, no one asked me.
    When one of my books is offered as a free download on Kindle or Nook, I brace myself for some very bad reviews, primarily from people who download them because they’re free, never reading the blurb, and then lambast the book and the writing because it’s “Christian fiction.”
    I guess what I’m saying is that reviews are nice, but they’re beyond an author’s control, so I try to ignore them as much as possible (unless it’s four and a half stars in Romantic Times–those I tweet about and post on Facebook).

    • Cathy West on November 2, 2011 at 12:17 pm

      I don’t get those folks that don’t give out five stars. Especially when they write a glowing review of the book. Then I look at the four stars and ask why!! Oh well. I guess to each his/her own. Reviewing is a tricky business. And yes, I have seen those reviews you are talking about. I got one on Goodreads from a reader who didn’t think my “Christian” characters should be acting in ways that were so ‘un-Christian’. LOL. Well, duh, that was kind of the point. She probably didn’t bother to read to the end of the book to see that it was actually about redemption and restoration…

    • Marji Laine on November 9, 2011 at 1:35 am

      I appreciate your advice and hope I can remember it whenever the time comes!

  6. Jessica R. Patch on November 2, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    If I read a book that wasn’t my cup of tea, I try to find a few things positive to say about it because like you said, that’s someone’s baby and I know, as a writer, I wouldn’t want someone to blast me–though I’m sure there’s some out there that will. It’s reality.

    A 5 star book is one just like you said. I can’t put it down, I linger on it for days. A 4 star book is one I really enjoyed even though I could close it at night. 3 is the average book I read–I like it. Maybe I skimmed a few pages, but that’s okay, b/c I didn’t miss anything, but overall I enjoyed it. 2 stars means it wasn’t great, there were some parts or dialogue I liked. I could probably skim lots of chapters and still know what was going on. A 1 star means I couldn’t get through a chapter, and I don’t even review them.

  7. Michelle Sutton on November 2, 2011 at 9:51 pm

    A five star book is one I obsess over reading, or that I want to call up my friends and talk about (on the phone) where I’ll say, “you have to read this book!” If you don’t believe me, ask them. Their husbands hate me because they spend so much money on books that I tell their wives they MUST read.

    A four star book is really good, and I got something out of it, but I didn’t obsess over it.

    A three star book I can put down. It is usually good otherwise, just not gripping.

    A two star book may be decently written, but I didn’t connect with it and probably didn’t finish it.

    A one star book had some element or elements that bothered or disturbed me.

  8. Casey on November 2, 2011 at 11:28 pm

    You prompt interesting questions, Cathy! And yes, I am a guilty blogger of giving 4 stars if I know the author and didn’t think it should get 5. BUT I will say that I never do so dishonestly to my reader. Because they want my honest opinion and I want to do them a service. 🙂

    5 stars: AWESOME read. Could not put it down, I became emotionally invested, the writing grabbed me by the troat and I could not put it down. It’s one I become excited to return to over and over again no matter how many interruptions–and there had better not be very many. 😉

    4 stars: It’s still good. I still liked reading it. But maybe there were a few things that bugged me. Maybe some mechanics in the writing, maybe the story just wasn’t totally for me. But again, I liked it, I keep many 4 stars books, so it is no where near a total loss. 🙂

    3 stars: I skimmed. That’s pretty much what that means.

    2 stars: If it’s two stars, I shouldn’t have finished it for the sake of the authors who wrote the book. 😉

    1 star: same. Poor writing is really what 1 and 2 stars come down to for me. 🙂

    Great discussion!

    • Cathy West on November 3, 2011 at 9:02 am

      Interesting thoughts here, Casey! I always appreciate reviewers who actually list their rating system somewhere on their blog. It’s helpful to know where they’re coming from, both as a reader and an author. The more I think about this, the more it comes down to what everyone has said – if I book stays with me, I think about it while I’m doing other things and can’t wait to get back to it, that’s a five star book. I’m reading one right now. Yes, there are things here in there in it that kind of bug me, like repeated sayings and whatnot, but the story is sticking, the characters have grabbed hold and I need to know how it’s going to end. So for sure, unless I hate the ending 🙂 I’ll be giving this book five stars!

  9. Kara on November 4, 2011 at 9:58 am

    I agree with what you said about not being able to put a book down and more then anything the story and characters stay with you long after the book is finished. That is a big one for me:)

  10. Valerie Comer on November 8, 2011 at 8:00 pm

    A five-star book, to me, is one where as soon as I’m done reading, I’m looking for what else that author has written and when their next book is coming out. It’s the one I rave about to anyone who will listen.

    Four stars? A really good book, but without quite the same obsession on my part to stalk the author!

    Three? To me, that’s an average book. A good book, one I could quite enjoy, but not super riveting. To me.

    Two and one–I don’t give them publicly. Two would be a book I kept forgetting to read. I went camping once with a stack of books and somehow forgot to take a book I was only about 30 pages from the end of. Needless to say, it hadn’t grabbed me.

    And one–couldn’t finish.

  11. Donna on November 8, 2011 at 8:10 pm

    A five star is definitely a book I can’t put down. I have to have 1/2 stars though. For me there is a huge difference down to a 4 star book which was good – maybe great for some – but just didn’t hit a hot spot for me. But it’s well written and had a good solid plot line. 4 1/2 in reality is more realistic than a 5. After all, a 5 should be perfect, right? So, yeah, a 5 is one I can’t seem to tear my eyes or my mind from – yeah, I keep reading till well past my bedtime, but I just want to finish – or get to a good stopping point. 4 1/2 is a really good book. It just doesn’t hold me quite so tightly. 4 stars is well written – good, not great. I don’t bother to review lower than that. I’m not out to smash or sully someone’s dream.

  12. Marji Laine on November 9, 2011 at 1:46 am

    I did the same thing you did, Donna. When I give reviews on my own site, I give half-stars – actually half chocolate kisses!

  13. Koala Bear Writer on November 10, 2011 at 9:35 pm

    Very interesting discussion! I find it hard to put stars to books on sites that require it (I don’t on my own blog, though I’ve thought about it – just haven’t been able to think of a good rating system). I agree with above descriptions of 5-star books – they have to be super memorable, books that I want to keep and read again someday, books that I remember and pass on to all my friends to read. 4-star books are books that were good and I’m glad I read, and I may or may not keep it. 3-star has some issues, something that didn’t work for me, and is a book that I’m going to give away (library or blog or something). One thing that I started doing was to review (in January) all the books that I’d read in the last year and consider which ones stand out as the “best” books of the year – if, months later, they still jump out at me, then they really deserve that 5-start rating. 🙂

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