Everyone has a different way of rating books, some people focus on the structure of a novel others rate it on the way it makes them feel. I like to do a combination of both and I want to further explain my rating system. When rating a book I purposelessly indicate the genre of a book to indicate the basis of my review. Why do I do this? Well because a YA Fantasy book cannot compare to a Man Booker Prize finalist literary novel. They are books on different scales so I judge based on the genre the book is in. This is only fair otherwise most books would rate 1 star in comparison To Kill a Mockingbird. I look for certain components in different novels because I understand that not all genres will be the same.
- Young Adult Fantasy / Sci-Fi / Paranormal / Dystopian
Books in this genre are hot right now and there’s TONS of them. There are some basics. You’re going to have a mostly female protagonist, you’re going to have love interest, you’re going to have heroic moments and many fast-faced plot elements. The vital, most important thing for me when reading this genre is a compelling and strong protagonist. I don’t mean strong physically, I mean a strong person with a backbone, an ability for self-sacrifice for greater good and things that inspire them other than just cute-boy-suddenly likes me. A Mary-Sue will kill a YA book for me. The action has to be present or at least a nice flowing plot. Stagnant moments poorly written will make me DNF a book, ambiguous plot points and over-arching mysteries will make me roll my eyes. Because this genre is so popular right now it’s easy to pick up a poorly done one however there’s some true gems, also series benefit in this category because you can have a nice build-up and many characters.
- Young Adult Contemporary
This genre, I feel, is the most difficult to execute because it can go very right but it can also go very very wrong. The trick to an excellent YA contemporary is the difficult theme the author decides to address. If no difficult themes are addressed then to me it’s basically a waste of a book. Two bland teen characters falling in love with no real difficulties in their life other than perhaps high school stuff is the easiest way to earn a 2 star review. There needs to be meat in these books, that is essential. Death, depression, racism, coming out, mental illness, serious illness, trauma – etc. That’s what these books are about. The hard gritty subject that will speak to teens that might be cutting themselves and need to identify with someone, teens that are being bullied, etc. Some YA also deal with coming of age and that is equality important but it’s very difficult to get right. Most of us don’t find ourselves in our teens but it’s always a nice story to read, to watch a character discover inner strength and confidence. I think what makes a 5 star read for me in YA contemporary is: compelling characters, above-average writing, plot execution and message. There needs to be a message, something that touched you, something that makes you think back on the book and smile. YA contemporary, I feel, should be about hope. We leave the dark introspective pieces to literary fiction and give the kids a bit of hope, hopefully they don’t end up too fucked up in their adult lives. I find it very difficult to do these in a series format. For the most part, I think it can be compressed into one book or maybe a duology. The perfect YA contemporary is a standalone.
- Middle Grade Books
Oh the fun that is the world of middle-grade! This is one of the few genre that I go with a lot more of how I feel than anything else. I think one of the few things I really love about middle-grade is how cheeky and witty they can be, a small wink-wink to adults that might be enjoying them. I can get lost in the world of middle grade books, they tend to be fun, not take themselves too seriously and are in the magic age before teen-angst takes over the reader’s lives. When a middle-grade book comes highly recommended I usually eat it up and becomes a favorite. It’s a magical time where belief is utterly suspended and anything can happen! I think what is vital in a middle grade book is the plot. Honestly because you need to keep them engaged and if the plot is boring, the book will be boring and fairly hated. Humor is also essential, kids like funny stuff and quite honestly, so do adults. Some of my favorite 5 star reads of all time are middle grade books and they still hold a dear place in my heart, it’s all about how the reader feels when reading it.
- New Adult
A hilarious new genre that I still think should simply be adult romance because it’s what it is. I’ve yet to read a New Adult book that is not a romance but I’m sure there’s some out there that vary. I have a problem with this genre because of a variety of reasons and it’s VERY VERY hard to get a 5 star rating out of me for a New Adult. So how to rate such a genre? Depth. Compelling characters. Hard-hitting subjects such as abuse, death, depression and addiction. Not only do you have to feature these but you have to address them in a rather responsible way. Now, I’ve noticed that one prevalent thing in these books is that the male protagonist tends to be a bad-boy, this is a central theme. Now, I love me some bad boys but there’s a difference between an emotionally unavailable man that slowly learns to love and open-up and one that abuses. I’ve seen this go very south and I cannot condone abuse in any form so that will learn an automatic DNF from me because the romanticizing of abusive relationships in unacceptable.
- Adult Literary Fiction
The grand cru of the literary world, literary fiction is the big leagues. Literary fiction is often what people point when saying a book is 5 stars. It’s an award winning, recognized writer that can craft a great literary masterpiece. I find that it is unfair to compare one of these books to a well-done YA contemporary and this is why it’s important to understand how you rate books or more importantly what people mean when they rate a book. In the grand-scheme of things these books might out-scale all other but it doesn’t mean that if you never read these you’ve never read a great book, a lot of people do not find these books palatable. I personally have to be in the mood for them and I can either grow to LOVE them or hate them. I think the most important thing in these books is to keep the reader engaged. I don’t care if your book is 800 pages about a boy that lives in a farm during the great depression and there’s some serious philosophical context to it, if I’m bored you’re fucked. The worst that can happen is allowing the reader to be bored while reading a literary fiction. Plot can and often will take the backseat in these books but you still need to keep the reader engaged. If I’m engaged, if I care then I’m most likely going to 4 star your book, if your book touches me in an emotional level and speaks to me along with being engaged then it’s a 5 star read. If it sticks to me long after I’ve read it – it’s a favorite.
- Adult Fiction (Thriller, Mysteries, Horror, Crime)
If I’m in the mood I love to read these. Much like YA, I look to be entertained while reading these books. I need to have GREAT characters; engaging, rich characters full of life. I need to have a plot and it needs to be paced well. If you give me all those, it’s a 5 star read. With these they have the tendency to be described as “I COULDN’T PUT IT DOWN” and that’s one of the best compliments you can give because that tends to be the book’s purpose. These can be fun and rather theatrical but regardless they become best sellers because they are addictive and encompass the fun of reading. They are also very movie-adaptable because often times they read like a movie.
- Adult Fiction – Romance
Adult romance HAS to be judged within its own category because comparing it to something like Shakespeare is laughable. The central glue in adult romance is the chemistry of the characters. This is based solely on feels, you need to feel the love story in order to decide if it’s a 5-star romance read. Because of it, it’s a bit subjective. I might love the bantering couple while you prefer the friends-to-lovers angle. I might like raunchy sex scenes you might enjoy more subtle ones, for romance it’s all a matter of preference – because of this I seldom look at ratings and more at synopsis of a book because it might give me a better idea if I will enjoy the book or not. These often come in companion series which is a popular thing for a writer of romance to do.
- Adult Fiction – Fantasy, Sci-Fi and Paranormal
There’s so many sub-genres in this category but overall I tend to judge these together. So in this very fun genre we have a wide spectrum – we have sci-fi magical realism that read like literary works and we have urban fantasy that reads like YA fic but overall I think if you’re asking me to suspend belief and you’re aiming at adults, you have to come to bat. So I’m actually harsher on these than I am with YA of the same topic. I need strong characters that are compelling and engaging, I need developed plot with the right pacing and I need above-average writing that shows thought process. If you’re giving me a trilogy or a series I need it to be cohesive. One of my biggest pet-peeves with these books are series that are not plotted out from the beginning and one can usually notice as the books go by, when book 9 in a series is coming out you know it’s time to quit, this ain’t Days of Our Lives.
This is my least picked up genre but I do like to read biographies. I do own a lot of reference books for my writing and other hobbies but these are not books I sit down to read. What I look for in a non-fiction is engagement. I need to be entertained to your story. Not everyone who has a story has the talent to tell the story and a well-crafted story is imperative to my enjoyment. I also only read about people who are interesting to me. I’ve read a lot of old Hollywood biographies and a few historical figures that I find enchanting. Because of this, the rating for this is purely feeling, but overall I look to walk away from your book with a feeling of having looked at the world through different eyes, that makes a 5 star read in Non-fiction for me.
- The Classics
I do not like reading classics so you will seldom see me rating them, if I have rated them is because I had to read them for class and based on my memories if I enjoyed it or not will determine their rating. However, I do believe they fall in their own category and there’s people who are very passionate about reading these and they develop their own rating systems for them because it’s hard to compare Cervantes to Stephen King.