I used to hand out five star ratings like candy on Halloween. If a book hit me particularly hard or really entertained the shit out of me, I just slapped it with the best rating. I was kind of under the impression that for a book to be considered a favorite, it needed the full five stars. Since then, though, I’ve kind of rethought my rating process and factors for determining what a favorite is. I talked about this recently with favorite authors and asked what makes an author one of your favorites. Most people agreed that if you LOVE a few of their books and then just LIKE a few others, they can certainly still be a favorite. Maybe a favorite author is just an auto-buy author. That’s generally how I see it. In any case, we all determined that just because they’re a “favorite” they don’t have to be PERFECT. You can love a book, call it a favorite, and still give it 4.5 stars. Conversely, I feel like you can really appreciate a fantastic book and give it five stars, but it doesn’t make it onto an all-time favorite list. Am I alone in this? I don’t know why I think this is true, but lately I just do. Some books I will scream about how much I love them but still have a few lingering ~negative feelings~ about certain aspects. Thus, they don’t get the perfect rating, but become a book I still yell about. This could just be MY personal rating scale but maybe you agree.
With every change in behavior, you start to wonder what you were thinking back in the day when you were a young, naive book reviewer. Why did I give this book five stars?! Why DIDN’T I give this book five stars? I’ve talked about rating books so many times on the blog before and even sort of touched on this exact topic. (I’ve previously talked about rating with your head or your heart, rating books critically, changing ratings, and taking the guesswork out of my ratings. No system is perfect of course, so even though I did take some of the “guesswork” out and use an analytical approach, I still have books where I wonder why I didn’t rate them a certain way.
Don’t get me wrong – I really enjoyed all of these books a lot. I don’t really consider them all-time favorites and honestly? Some haven’t left as big of an impression as I expected. They just didn’t last long for me, even if I thought they might when I finished and gave them a rating. Let’s see what I thought as I was going through these.
We Are The Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson
Why I loved it: Judging from my review, this book was seriously impacting me as I read it. It was a really heartbreaking story in a lot of ways because of bullying and other struggles. The characters felt super real to me and I loved following the story as it went on. I used the words “honest, interesting, and heartbreaking” countless times, so clearly this was an emotional read.
Why I second guess it now: Unfortunately all of that is kind of gone now. I don’t really feel like it left as much of an emotional impact on me as I thought. I remember wavering between 4.5 and 5 stars back then, but the feels of the thing at the time really sent me over the edge. This was a GREAT book that I’d highly recommend, but the emotions didn’t last for me.
Stars Above by Marissa Meyer
Why I loved it: I was SO into the Lunar Chronicles world at that point. I’m pretty sure I chose a 5 star rating just because of the epilogue story. I allude to that in my review for sure. In that regard, sure, I can see why 5 stars.
Why I second guess it now: I loved all of the stories in this one for sure, but since when do I rate novella books 5 stars? Usually for novella bind-ups, I rate each story then average all of the ratings to get the “full book rating” – I’ll round up or down based on how much I liked the overall feel of the book and if I felt that the novellas added something to the series. I can definitely imagine that this book would have been between 4 – 4.5 stars because I loved the vast majority of the novellas, but yeah… 5 stars = too much for this.
The Lost & Found
by Katrina Leno
Why I loved it: I was enthralled by the idea of this story. The entire plot and premise really had me going the whole time. The characters were SUPER charming as well. I was rooting for them and waiting for them to meet up on their road trip the whole time. It had so many interesting elements: the lost (then found) objects, the online pen pals meeting in real life, the journey to Texas (for different reasons), and the pairs of people in each car. I really loved it all to be honest.
Why I second guess it now: I feel like I was so swept up with the endearing characters that logic went away. I know with magical realism stories you don’t necessarily need an explanation for why those magical things are happening, but this one felt like maybe there could have or should have been? It was random but enjoyable at the same time. I mention in my review that there were “small details” that bothered me throughout but not enough to change my rating. Fair enough. What were those details, past Lauren?! I barely remember any small details from the book, period, let alone annoying ones. I also apparently saw some of the twists coming. Again, no idea what those twists even were, but I still don’t usually like predictability that much.
History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera
Why I loved it: This book was really powerful and interesting! I liked that it brought me out of my comfort zone a little bit. I’ve never read about a character with OCD and stay away from immediate-grief stories. (I don’t mind grief if it is later because it isn’t as raw and hard to read about.) This story though… it was really raw and honest. I loved the writing style too; it clicked from page one.
Why I second guess it now: I did my little “rating report” for this one and it came out to 4.8 stars. I usually won’t round up to 5 because my whole ~gut feeling~ thing, but for some reason I did. I didn’t think it was as “addicting” as I wanted it to be (it took me a while to read) and the plot had a half-star removed for whatever reason. I just really loved this book, but there’s something in my head telling me it would be 4.75 stars instead of 5. I’m picky 😉
On the flipside, there are plenty of books that feel like they deserved a little more. Hindsight is indeed 20/20, right? Am I just looking back with rose-colored glasses or did these books deserve a perfect rating? Let’s seeeee.
This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills
Why it was less: I was picky with this one for some reason I can’t really understand now. My review is so vague like a moron: “To be completely honest, I can’t put my finger on it. I don’t feel like there was anything really missing from the story; it felt really well-rounded! However… there just IS a little something missing.” OH OKAY. I do have a small complaint about the romance, which is similar to my complaint with her previous book. So.
Why it should be more: I LOVED IT. I really did. I love it more in hindsight. The different elements, characters, fandom stuff… ugh, it was all so good. Hey Lauren, if you can’t put your finger on the problem… maybe there really isn’t much of one and you should let yourself enjoy the books you read.
The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
Why it was less: Yet again, vague Lauren is vague: “There’s something in the back of my head that just prevents this from being a full five stars for me. It may be that the ship took longer to sail than I hoped. It may also have to do with the ending a little bit. I think some of it has to do with the pacing feeling off at times? I’m not 100% sure I can put my finger on anything specific.” SIGH SIGH SIGH.
Why it should be more: I also loved this book. The whole concept of fate in books is my faaaavorite, so why didn’t I just succumb to it? Let myself enjoy it for what it is. The ending was fitting for the book so I can’t even be mad about it, even though I tried to be. Get over yourself and love the book.
Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn
Why it was less: I can’t find anything in my review that suggests major issues. All I said was “I had a FEW mixed feelings with how everything was resolved. Some things were tied up neatly – maybe a little TOO neatly to be considered realistic? – but other things were left open.” I can see how that would be weird but whatever. Three of my categories in my rating report were 4.5 stars, so that’s why I rounded down from 4.8 to 4.5 for the final.
Why it should be more: The concept of this was just so refreshing – the anti-slut-shaming and sex positivity was really nice. The main character was not perfect and I can see why some people didn’t like it, but I really loved this book. It was so unique. I love gray areas and super imperfect main characters who make mistakes.
A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
Why it was less: I’m fairly sure pacing/length was my issue. I really need to just GET OVER THAT because it always happens for fantasy books. I can’t read them as fast as I read literally any other genre, so I need to STOP making that a qualifier in my reviews. Seriously.
Why it should be more: UMMM it was perfect?! Should I just insert a fan art picture of Rhys here? I just loved every second of this despite the pacing issues. The ending was awesome and the wait will be utterly brutal until the next book comes out. So, so terrible.
Winning by Lara Deloza
Why it was less: I think the beginning surprised me because I didn’t pay attention to the synopsis. I was worried the mean girl would get away with everything and actual young adults reading it would get the wrong idea or something? I tried to read it with my YA-lens instead of adult-reading-YA-lens, if that makes sense. I think it got me off on the wrong foot and that’s partly why the rating isn’t 5 stars. I also thought the ending was abrupt.
Why it should be more: This book was really interesting and smart. I LOVED the mean girl trope in a new way. The main character is terrible and you know it going into the book. It’s supposed to be that way. Getting inside her head was fascinating. I haven’t read a book like that in a while – almost like it’s from the villain’s perspective. I could not stop reading it either; I finished the second half in one night even though I needed to go to bed.
The Fixer by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Why it was less: My biggest issue was connecting with the main character. I said “My only issue is feeling like I still don’t know Tess. She was obviously a badass bitch and really kept everything to herself. She was very closed off – to everyone and to the reader. I wanted more about her, but still love the parts that she showed.”
Why it should be more: I rated the second book 5 stars and realistically, they both deserved that rating. I was excited for a book without romance at that time, so it definitely hit the mark on that end too. I loved the friendships, the family feels, the insaaaane twists and turns. Overall, a fantastic political thriller!
I don’t feel like I give a lot of books five stars anymore. Even when I look back on the book and wonder WHY I was so picky and critical, I don’t go back and change it. Why? Five stars is almost an instinct for me now. I just kind of know when the book deserves it I guess. I can’t use my little rating report to determine it’s five stars, because why bother? Because I use more of a gut reaction than anything, the number of five star ratings are few and far between. Just look at the stats! (I didn’t include reread numbers in this because I feel like that would just skew everything; I usually only reread books I previously loved and likely gave a high rating.)
10 out of 92 books • 11%
No easy way to get the data
26 out of 166 books • 16%
38 out of 166 books • 23%
10 out of 117 books • 6%
24 out of 117 books • 21%
My number of five star ratings has basically been cut in half, no matter if you compare it to 2014 or 2015. This is sort of crazy to me because clearly I’ve been making a subconscious (or maybe sometimes conscious) change to how I rate books or even rate favorite books. I have definitely been getting pickier with my five star ratings. It’s really hard for me to even think of the books I’ve given five stars to this year because there have been so few.
All of these books got 5 stars from me and I can’t think of any regrets. They’re all top favorites for the year – at least one of them is considered an all-time favorite. All of them held my attention, intrigued me, and made a long-term emotional impact. I can’t wait to read some of the next books in the series and WISH the others were a series (or something. Not really. Don’t ruin them, okay?) All of them just completely hit the mark.
I think I’ve gotten pickier about contemporary books in my old age. I know what I like and what I don’t like. I’ve been reading YA contemporary since I was like 13 years old so I have over 10 years of experience (holy shit). Some books deserve 5 stars right off the bat because they’re interesting, powerful, and unique. If a book breaks away from certain tropes or cliches or predictability, I’m on board. Super on board. Some of the other books in these categories here (fantasy, mystery/thriller) are “newer” for me so I’m not sure what I like yet. I’m still working it out. That could be why it’s harder to pin down a 5 star read for me; I have less to compare it to.