Thursday, November 9, 2017

Discussion: How A Book Gets Five Stars From Me

Feed Your Fiction Addiction and It Starts At Midnight host the 2017 Discussion Challenge.

If you’ve read my reviews before, you’ll know that I’m kind of a hard-ass. When it comes to books, I know what I like and what I don’t. So, how does a book make me happy? I’m going to tell you. 






How A Book Gets All The Stars From Me







It has a strong setting


I hate those generic “Anywhere, USA” settings. I want to know exactly where a story is set, and I want descriptions of that setting. I want to see the environment, the people, the food, the time period, the culture, EVERYTHING.

Some books that got the setting right:










It has believable characters who do things


They don’t have to be likeable characters, but they have to have agency and realistic motives. I want to feel like I’m reading about an actual person. Actual people are flawed and complicated. I want to read about characters who make things happen, not characters who sit around waiting for something to happen. Most importantly, I want to see the characters’ personalities.

Some books that got the characters right:










It has strong writing


I want language that is fresh, innovative, vivid, odd, poetic, and surprising.

Some books that got the writing right:










Unique structures are a plus


I’m a structure junkie. At this time last year, I was giving a lecture on nonlinear narrative structure to a class of MFA students. That’s how much of a weirdo I am. If a book has a unique structure (and does it well), I’ll love it forever.

Some books that got the structure right:










It puts a new twist on an old story


Some genres get very repetitive. I’m always happy when a book brings something new to the table. I like books that push the boundaries of their genres. Or books that do not fit neatly into any genre.

Some books that got genre-bending right:










It gives me something to think about


One of the reasons I read is to learn. Books don’t have to be overtly educational, but I always appreciate it when a book makes me look at something in a deeper way.

Some books that got education right:










It has tension and moves at a good pace


No waffling or floundering. Even if a plot is slow, I want it to feel like it’s heading toward a conclusion. I require tension to keep me reading. There needs to be questions raised and questions answered. If I’m not curious about what will happen next, I get bored quickly.

Some books that got tension right:










It makes me feel something


This is nearly impossible to do because I don’t have emotions. Still, a few authors have succeeded.

Some books that got feelings right:











Let’s discuss: How does a book get all the stars from you?











46 comments:

  1. It's always so hard for me to define exactly why I would give a book 5 stars - just something about the tone of the book, the way the story moves, the characters, etc., all working together. I definitely agree with how it makes me feel - a book that makes me cry usually gets higher marks (I mean, I cry easily, but still).

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    1. A book has never made me cry, so if that ever happens, I’ll definitely give it 5 stars.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  2. I don't have a set structure for giving a book five stars...I mentally compare it to other books and decide where it rates beside them. I don't mean 'is it as great as Harry Potter', more of a 'what level of entertainment did the book give me'. I only rarely change a star rating after I've reviewed it.

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    1. I mentally compare books, too. I WISH there were more books that I like as much as Harry Potter.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  3. If it's one of my favorite books ever. Ha.

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  4. I don't know what exactly makes me give a book 5 stars but all your reasons are really good ones. Most Dangerous was also a 5 star read for me.

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    1. I love Most Dangerous. I’m forcing that book on everybody.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  5. I agree with all of these, especially the books that make me think. If I'm still thinking about a book a day or two after I've finished it, it's a good 'un.

    Click @ Click's Clan

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  6. Detailed description of the setting interwoven with the story is a deal breaker for me...I gotta have it. Strong writing is a must as well. I teach composition in a community college. While I do sometimes read very well done freshmen essays, much of the time I read a lot of the "same ole same ole"...in my personal reading, I need rich vocabulary and a book that almost sings to me :)

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    1. Setting is hugely important to me. I also need books that stand out. If it feels like something I’ve read a zillion times before, I probably won’t be interested.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  7. I don't really look at things like that in a book. If it's something that I love, whether it be the characters or the setting then I will give it 5 stars. Sometimes I love a book but just feel like something is missing then I will lower my rating.

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    1. That’s understandable. A lot of reading is about feeling.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  8. For me it has to do with feeling something and amazing characters. And magic and good world building. But characters are the most important thing. When they get stuck in my head and won't leave me alone.

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    1. YES! Characters are important to me, too. If they’re boring, the book won’t get a good rating.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  9. When I look at my five star reads, most deliver a lot of feels and have characters I just adored. A big plus for me is a good ending, one which gave me answers/closure and left the character better than they were at the beginning of the book (which was my issue with The Spectacular Now. That ending!!!)

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    1. I completely understand why so many people hate the ending of The Spectacular Now. It’s kind of devastating.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  10. that is an awesome criteria for 5 star, I have become very picky for my 5 star reads too. I looked at my rating this year and realized I gave not even a handful of books 5 stars, but I can see how the things you mentioned go into play and I agree

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    1. I’m really picky about my books. I barely have any 5-star reads this year.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  11. Love this! I feel like it's been so long since I read a 5 star book, I forget what it's even like ;) I do agree with a bunch of your choices though! Obviously The Hunger Games, Illuminae, Challenger Deep, Book Thief, so great! A lot of these are on my TBR too, so that's a good sign!

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  12. So well thought out! I feel like I'm influenced by all of these things, but not as aware of them. I guess the ability to analyze your reading come with the territory of an MFA in literature. I think having characters that I really care about is one important aspect. They don't have to be perfect (boring!) but they can't be horrible. Lolita is not a five star read for me. Sense of place (and time, if relevant) are big. I like me some plot, which is probably what you mean by tension. I like a well done unique structure as well, and all three of your "educational" books were five stars for me too.

    Now you've got me thinking. I may have to put some more thought into this and post my response!

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    1. Awesome. If you write a 5-star criteria post, I’d love to read it.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  13. I actually agree with all of these. Sometimes, though, I'll give a book 5 stars based on only feelings... I'm weird that way.
    If you enjoy books with different structure, have you read 'A Visit From the Goon Squad' by Jennifer Egan? It's really good, plus, each narrating character's chapter has a different structure.
    Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews

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    1. YES! I taught a class on A Visit from the Goon Squad. The students hated it.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  14. This is a really great list! I always struggle to work out what exactly makes me give a book a good rating, but I think it's a combination of the things you mentioned. For me particularly, I would say it's a combination of believable characters, an original story or concept (not necessarily unique, but something that feels fresh and new regardless), and something that can make me feel strong emotions towards it.

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    1. Believable characters and originality are must-haves for me. I get bored and irritated without them.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  15. I don't really have a set list, but I know that if I read a book and I can barely put it down to do anything else, and if I am thinking about it when I'm not reading or even after I finish, that is usually a 5 star read for me. Some things can even knock those down, like an unlikable character, or a plot point that just seems ridiculous to me. Or maybe even bad editing occasionally. Love this post! It's great to see why other people end up with their 5 star reads.
    Check out my latest discussion post about Identical Covers.

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    1. I’m working on a post about how books get DNFed by me, and bad editing is on it. I can forgive a few typos. Too many will get on my nerves.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  16. Ultimately, what makes me give 5 stars is when a book brings me to tears, or when I'm so immersed in the story. Also pacing has to be right and if I'm listening to an audiobook, the narrator has to be perfect.

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    1. I’ve only listened to one audiobook, but I can see how a bad narrator would ruin a good book.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  17. I agree with all the reasons on your list. Sometimes a book has some, but not all your list for me and it is still a 5 star. Sometimes a book will make me feel all the things but doesn't teach me anything, or it has great writing and settings but the characters don't necessarily do much. It is hard to put my finger on what makes a 5 star read for me. I am getting more picky as time moves on though.
    Great post!

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    1. When I first started reviewing, I’d give everything 5 stars. Now I hardly ever give that rating. Most books get 3-4 stars from me.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  18. You’re a tough critic! I’d be happy just to get you to read my book. I have read just 4 of your examples.

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    1. Lots of authors want me to read their book. They’d probably regret it after they saw my review. :)

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  19. I don't give 5 stars all that often. When I give that rating, it has to be a book that I fell in love with and couldn't get out of my mind. It is often a book that I plan to read again. All of the things you mentioned are factored in.

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    1. YES! I love rereading, so I often reread books I gave 5 stars.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  20. That's interesting, I'm okay with the "somewhere" setting :) but ditto on the characters and the writing. What I can say about myself, what makes a book a fiver for me... It's when it blows me away. Surprises me or gives me tons of emotions. That, I would say, is the biggest difference between 4 and 5 stars for me :)
    Great post!

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    1. If a book can surprise me, I’m more likely to give it 5 stars. The more I read, the harder it is to surprise me.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  21. yes to everything! Especially books that make me feel and don't fit exactly ass they are expected to in a genre. It really has to have all of it, the writing the tension, the story etc. I don't have many 5 stars because of that

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    1. I don’t have many 5-star books, either. A book really has to impress me to get that rating.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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    2. btw I HAVE to read This Side of Providence! I lived in Providence many years!

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  22. Totally agree in all points! Nice post! :)

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  23. I think that defining a five-star book can be so tough for me---it feels really elusive sometimes. But I love how you were able to categorize everything and determine what it is in a book that really speaks to you. For me, that emotional connection is key---that's typically what makes the difference between 4.5 stars and 5.

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

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  24. I can get emotionally attached to books, so if I get attached to a book for whatever reason (I can identify with a character, the book feels familiar, if it can make me laugh/cry/get pissed/scared) I would call it a good book. When I put a book down and I’m constantly wondering what the characters are going do to next, it’s a good book.

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