There are three factors I take into consideration when rating books:
#1. Tonal consistency (a.k.a. self-awareness)
> If an author is consistent with their mistakes, but also consistent in their strengths, that’s forgivable to me since it means that they can weed out those flaws with time. However, when a book is all over the place in terms of characters, morals, or pacing, that tells me that the author doesn’t know what the hell they’re trying to say (a.k.a. no self-awareness), and that screams of incompetency to me.
- My Lady Jane – Not mind-blowing, but I pushed it up to 5 stars because it’s so tonally consistent and has solid pacing and humor throughout. The authors knew exactly what they were trying to do and say.
- The Raven Boys – no plot, but everything else was consistent from prose to characters. I would’ve given this book 2 stars for meandering plot, but I gave it near 4 stars for how consistently atmospheric and self-aware it was.
#2. Show not tell! (a.k.a. nuance and subtlety)
> I find it important to be immersed in a story (as in, not distracted by the technicalities), which means that I shouldn’t be able to sense an author trying to pull at my emotions or influencing me to feel a certain way. The moment I feel nudged to be sad or moved, it irks me and takes me out of the story.
- A Court of Thorns and Roses – emotional manipulation. That’s the greatest flaw with this series, and I can never respect nor abide by the author vilifying characters out of the blue. 1 star.
- The Final Empire – this book is great except for the fact that the clunky prose often betrays how the author wants me to feel, so I knocked it down to 4 stars for that.
#3. There’s a takeaway (a.k.a. it has stakes, there’s a moral!)
> I am totally open to books that are boring, meandering, or long-winded as long as the author is trying to convey a thoughtful moral through the story. I need a strong (and again, tonally consistent) emotion to latch onto by the end, and that usually implies a solid finale.
- Caraval – this book could’ve been 2 stars, but I ultimately knocked it down to 1 star for its lazy and self-indulgent finale, which left me with no morals to take away.
- Heartless – this book boasts its share of flaws and cliches, but I gave it near-5 stars for how emotionally charged and deliciously nihilistic the finale was. It commits to its creeps and tone, and I liked that.
- A Monster Calls – although this is a middle-grade book that left me in want for an epilogue, it made me weep, so it gets an unconditional 5 stars from me.
Long story short, I will forgive almost any book whose author has taken the pride to perfect their story to the best of their ability, no matter the flaws. I can only enjoy a book that I can respect, so that means that I have to feel like the author has made an effort to convey a moral in a thoughtful and self-aware manner.
RUNDOWN OF MY RATING SYSTEM
5 frogs – Super enjoyable and well-executed! Strong, satisfying stories that can offer enjoyment as a standalone, even as part of a series. Usually re-readable.
4 frogs – Either super enjoyable OR well-executed, but not necessarily both. There’s not many holes you can poke in either department, but such books weren’t compelling enough for me to read again. They simply offer solid satisfaction when you read it the first time, and you can check it off as a nice read you had no real issue with.
3 frogs – Books that could’ve been enjoyable, but I ended up not caring enough either due to poor execution or a bland/predictable message. However, these aren’t two-star reads since I could there was some effort put in, so they didn’t tick me off.
2 frogs – Books that could’ve been 3 stars, but there’s a major technical issue or problematic scene that pissed me off enough to warrant knocking off a star. These aren’t 1-star reads either due to enjoyment factor or just an okay execution.
1 frog – Books that are badly executed and there are issues with the story. Not enjoyable whatsoever as a result, and obviously pissed me off. (Note: I never give books that are boring this rating; it has to be badly executed in order to warrant a 1-star rating from me.)