How Books Earn Five-Star Ratings From Readers

Posted by Marie on February 21, 2019

An unforgettable world. A cast of lovable characters. A plot twist that leaves you breathless. What does it take for a book to earn a five-star rating?

To help us define perfection, we asked avid readers on Facebook and Twitter to finish this sentence: "When I give a book five stars, that means…" and listed some of the most popular answers. Which ones do you relate to? Share your favorites in the comments.


1. "It cured my depression, cleared my acne, and aligned my chakras," says Brooklyn.

2. "That I think even the guy who loaded the book onto the delivery truck did a perfect job," says Heath.

3. "I called in sick to stay home and finish it and I will be pressing it into your hands next time I see you," says Judy.

4. "I couldn't put it down and was sad when it was done. A five-star book should pull you in and refuse to let you go," says Nathaniel.

5. "I want to read it again…and again…and again," says Denise.

6. "I will have difficulty finding my next read because this one really rocked me," says Tonya.

7. "I didn't guess the ending," says Claire.

8. "I forgot to sleep, eat, and everything else until I finished it," says Nenad.

9. "It means the characters came to matter to me; they were authentic; they drew me in and I came to care about them. A five-star book has changed me in some way that I can't even necessarily name." says Gracie.

10. "The author was able to drag me out of reality, paint a picture for me, and suck me into the story like I was truly there, every time I read that book," says Lizzie.

11. "That it profoundly affected me and changed the way I think or brought new meaning to my life," says Stephen.

12. "I was living the book, not just reading it," says Susan.


Tell us what a five-star rating means to you in the comments!

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Comments Showing 1-50 of 157 (157 new)

message 1: by Mike (new)

Mike 1 Star: Didn't like it
2 Stars: Meh
3 Stars: Liked it
4 Stars: Loved it
5 Stars: Holy $#!+

message 2: by Magali (new)

Magali For me it would be :

1 Star : Hated it/DNF
2 Stars : Did not really like it but finished it and it had some qualities
3 Stars : It was okay but I won't read it again
4 Stars : I really liked it and would be okay to read it again

message 3: by Jess (new)

Jess of the Silver Sword This list took the words right out of my mouth! Love it.

message 4: by Stefanie (new)

Stefanie hahaha the first one!

message 5: by Carol (new)

Carol Isaacs A five star rating to me is being fully attached and connected with the characters. If I am not only reading the words but living them in my own mind it would be hard for me to not give five stars. Also, these are books that I cannot put down and try to sneak reading time in even when I am slammed with things to do. These books remove me from my reality and take me into their world of words.

message 6: by Allison (new)

Allison I relate to 4 and 9-12 the most, although I think 11 is very rare. I think a lot about a five-star book is the aftermath; the story stays with you - you miss it. Five-star books are definitely ones I want to read more than once.

message 7: by Sydney (new)

Sydney Piepgrass If I can't stop thinking of the book during and after I read it - whether it is the characters, the world or something else - then it deserves 5 stars

message 8: by Francy (new)

Francy Guimarães Teixeira A 5 stars book touches my heart. I can't give up reading it. I had a stroke 5 years ago and became hemiplegic and got to be retired. I'm studying translation from English to Brazilian Portuguese focusing literature translations. I fall in love with fantasy books. I would much appreciate if goodreads would announce their negotiations with Brazilian publishing companies in order for me offering my services
I'm particularly interested in the Black Mages series

message 9: by Anna (new)

Anna If I stay up at night to finish it, or if I pull it out even if I have just one minute while I run into the break room to grab a sip of water, that's a hell of an indicator.

message 10: by Jezzy (last edited Feb 24, 2019 02:01AM) (new)

Jezzy the FB & Twitter comments that i relate to are #s: 4, 6, 7, 9, 10 & 12.

message 11: by Jillian (new)

Jillian Vicinanza Here’s my rating rubric.
5 stars: the book is outstanding, must read, enjoyable, well written, and has something about it that’s fresh, whether it’s style or content; well developed characters, thought out plot, and/or thoroughly researched.
4 stars: solidly written, enjoyable, well-done, maybe something that’s been done before but still exceptional in some way.
3 stars: middle of the road, not bad, enjoyable but maybe unremarkable in some way, writing was decent, but perhaps somewhat forgettable.
2 stars: poorly written and/or content was redundant, plot was perhaps unbelievable, characters were one dimensional, wouldn’t recommend.
1 star: could not finish, or the author did something unforgivable; painful to get through, severely bad writing, or something literarily offensive.

message 12: by Claudia (new)

Claudia #9 works for me especially since I read so many non-fiction books. To get a 5 from me, it has to stay with me, change the way I look at everyday items and people.

message 13: by Peggy (new)

Peggy Jillian wrote: "Here’s my rating rubric.
5 stars: the book is outstanding, must read, enjoyable, well written, and has something about it that’s fresh, whether it’s style or content; well developed characters, th..."

Same here.

message 14: by فاطمة (new)

فاطمة العبد الأمير I will choose: 7 to 11, I think that all of them has same meaning but in a different way.

* note:
It's difficult to rate a book when it is translated from different language. Sometimes, the book is good but the translation is the worst!
I suggest to add extra -separated- rating stars for translation and book cover.

message 15: by Ybbi (last edited Feb 25, 2019 05:36AM) (new)

Ybbi Stories that make you do a full stop in the midst of reading and then (oftentimes involuntarily) make you go "damn". I think for me there's no particular criteria (my approach to critique is less scholarly than most lol), just the ~feeling~ that the book as a whole was greater than the sum of its parts is enough to warrant the 5 stars

message 16: by Bi (new)

Bi Agree with Nathaniel and Tonya... even with Nenad (but my sleep is stronger than my will to continue reading).

My 5 stars rating books always need a whole night thinking about my review ‘cause I need to understand my feelings about that book and TRY to find the right words to explain them.

message 17: by Robert (new)

Robert A 5 star book is something you can feel in your teeth. A book you *need* to sit down again and read. If you have 15'll whip this book out even if it means getting 10 pages in.

message 18: by Yasemin (new)

Yasemin If it is a novel, when I feel the character inside me, when I flow with the story like a river flowing towards the sea, I give 5 stars. It should also contain a good storyline, stabile characters and be written with a comprehensible language; then I give 5 stars.

If it is a book of research (mostly academic), it should be based on a good literature review, following strong statements and evidences. Then I give 5 stars.

message 19: by Sharon (new)

Sharon For me, I work in the reverse of what some other reviewers might do. Every book starts at 5 stars, before I ever turn a page. I figure that I wouldn't have picked it up if it didn't interest me.

What happens after that remains to be seen. If the editing and grammar are poor, that's going to cost points. So are characters I don't give a damn about. If I abandon the book, it's an automatic 1-star.

You get the picture, I'm sure.

message 20: by Raquel (new)

Raquel Figuesans ❾¾ I feel identify with the points 4 and 10. I give 5 starts to a book when " I couldn't put it down and was sad when it was done" and when "I was living the book, not just reading it". Then...

4 stars mean: I love it, or like it a lot
3 stars mean: It´s ok, i like it, it´s fun...
2 stars mean: it´s fine but its not for me
1 stars mean: i don´t like it

message 21: by Mark (new)

Mark It would be easier for a book to earn five stars from me if Goodreads rating system wasn't so inflationary. If two stars means that "It was okay," three stars that I "liked it," and four stars I "really liked it," then the site has shifted the ratings in a way that is different form most other sites -- including, ironically enough, Goodreads own parent company. If they want more five-star ratings, then perhaps they should consider adopting Amazon's more reasonable approach, which allows for more nuance in negative ratings as well.

message 22: by Christy (new)

Christy Petersen Holloway With books I love, I find myself slowing down. Normally I read quickly, but if I start to find myself slowing down and rereading passages and taking my time, then I know I really love the book. Guaranteed 5 stars!

message 23: by Anissa (new)

Anissa When I know that I'd read it again, it's a five star. I read a good number of 4 star books, some I'd even consider among my favourites, but they're not things I'd ever feel compelled to again read.

message 24: by Paul (new)

Paul Manytravels The absolute most important quality of both fiction, non-fiction and poetry is that the work communicates the author's intent and message to the reader. Some authors attempt innovations in their writing that keeps them from delivering their actual story while others try to impress readers with their vocabulary or technical dexterity. After all, all writing is, above all else, a form of communication. Thus, truly outstanding non-fiction makes complicated ideas and technical expertise accessible to the reader and quality fiction engages the reader in its story. Outstanding poetry conveys emotion and feeling in addition to its message.

I try not to give too many 5 star ratings so that when I come across a truly exceptional book, I am not putting it into the company of other books which really were not as good.
Five stars, for me, means that the art and craft of writing came through and helped to carry the plot and storyline. The author show follow the advice "show, don't tell" when developing characters and not clutter up the story with a lot of incidents or details which have no connection to where the novel is headed.
For non-fiction books, I want to feel as if the author has truly presented a fair and complete picture of his topic and that the work is well researched.
I hate to read any book all the way through and feel it only deserves 1 or 2 stars (even zeros stars if there were such thing) and usually when I see a book headed toward a 1 or 2 star rating, I quit wasting time on it. About a quarter of the books I begin reading end up in this category and I neither finish nor rate them.

message 25: by Jay (new)

Jay Schutt A five star rating from me means the book held me captive to the very last page or it improved my knowledge immensely.

message 26: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Andersen I don't give many 5-star ratings. Most of mine are 3-4 stars. 5 stars are for books that really grab me. That I would recommend to almost anyone who asked me for a recommendation. The kind of book that has me dreading whatever I read next because I'm afraid it will suffer by comparison. It may be just a beautifully written book. It may just be the book that speaks to me in that moment in time.

message 27: by Joy (new)

Joy Five stars from me is very rare..maybe two or three per year max! It means not only was the book amazing in plot, with well developed believable characters that feel as read as my friends, but also that it is so well written that it's a delight to savour every word and phrase. Yes the bar is high for me! Interestingly I have found I am more likely to award 5 stars to s book that is outside my usual genre (psychological thrillers and family mysteries). Maybe because I have less similar books to compare it with!

message 28: by Alismcg (new)

Alismcg ⭐ story / plot
⭐⭐ do the characters have REAL depth? Female characters?
⭐⭐⭐ does the writer write well ?
⭐⭐⭐⭐ has the material been well researched ?
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ have I been moved, inspired

message 29: by Lynne (new)

Lynne Thompson It’s a 5 star for me when I can’t stop thinking about the book; when it becomes part of my life. That doesn’t happen often.

message 30: by Julie (new)

Julie Round I always wonder how the same book can get a five star and a one star rating. Those five stars must be a little suspicious. I rarely give a book five stars. It must be exceptional. I hope authors aren't disappointed with four stars because I use them for books I have enjoyed and consider to have been well written. I would always be happy with four stars.

message 31: by Rosabloom (new)

Rosabloom A 5 star book for me is when I forget that I’m not actually living inside the story. When it takes me a minute or two to come back to my reality every time I stop reading; and I sit there having to convince myself that the reality I was in wasn’t real.

message 32: by Teaguem2005 (new)

Teaguem2005 5 stars for me means the author painted a picture for me, even if I don't like the characters, I can see them. I can love to hate them. Even if I like the characters, it doesn't necessarily mean they're a "good" person. It means the characters have dimensions and not predictable. I love a twist with wit. I love a passionate love story that's rooted in reality; the couple doesn't always end up together.

message 33: by Katie (new)

Katie This one!

4. "I couldn't put it down and was sad when it was done. A five-star book should pull you in and refuse to let you go," says Nathaniel.

message 34: by Gabriela (new)

Gabriela Mike wrote: "1 Star: Didn't like it
2 Stars: Meh
3 Stars: Liked it
4 Stars: Loved it
5 Stars: Holy $#!+"

Accurate! Hahahahaha

message 35: by Janice (new)

Janice Favorite author and/or love the story.

message 36: by Wessel Gordon (new)

Wessel Gordon A good storyteller is able to pull me in as if I'm physically there with the characters and feeling their emotions.

That and me thinking after the climax ''How the £"!$ didn't I see that coming?" always gets a five star rating.

message 37: by Andrea (new)

Andrea I know exactly when a book becomes a five-star read for me: I lose track of time and even become unaware that I am actively reading or turning pages; instead, the story starts to unfold in my head and the real world just melts away. In those rare moments, I can't put the book down until the last page is read. Doesn't happen very often to me all, unfortunately, but when it does it's such a great feeling.

message 38: by Stephanie (new)

Stephanie Anze The books that have earned 5 stars from me have been meticulously researched, with a well thought out prose, characterization and theme. Most books that have gotten this rating have made me cry, experience a gamut of emotions and truly made me feel for the characters. These book have rendered me useless right after reading for I can not get them out of my mind.

message 39: by Acheron (new)

Acheron I have strong waves of melancholy when I put it down. I think about this book at night. I am surprised, amazed, touched.

message 40: by Audrey (new)

Audrey 1 star: I hated it so much
2 star: I didn't like it that much, even though there were stuff that was good about the story
3 star: I liked it
4 star: I loved it
5 star: I loved it so much and it is flawless

message 41: by Celina (new)

Celina To rate a book five stars, I need both an "objective" quality factor (excellent writing, characterization, research) and a personal "love" factor. I curve the quality factor for its genre: a book might be everything a travel memoir or a horror novel should be, even if that genre's not my favorite. Sometimes I will round up a book on either factor to give it a 5, but it's got to be at least a 4.5 on both.

message 42: by Sheryl (new)

Sheryl Wilhelm 4, 6 and10.

message 43: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer 5 stars means it rocked my world. Either:
- with an ending that was mind blowing
- a twist I never saw coming
- characters that became my best friends
- I read it at a frenzied pace then deliberately slowed down because I knew I would be depressed when it was over
- spiraled me into a reading slump because anything I read after it was not up to par
- something that I read over and over
- truly original content

message 44: by Barbie (new)

Barbie I rarely gave five stars. If I gave that mean I fell in love with the story. I forgot everything around me. Nothing matter just me and the book. It is an indescribable feeling. Very special and even rarer. :-)

message 45: by Sofia (new)

Sofia | Literary Soph For me five stars means i relate to the characters and really do love the plot and i know i will be thinking after reading it

message 46: by Saunders (new)

Saunders 1 stars - didn't like it
2 stars - nope it was ok
3 stars - liked it
4 stars - really liked it
5 stars - kept me engrossed/engaged in the story. Couldn't put it down.

message 47: by Shannon (new)

Shannon Canaday Sharon wrote: "For me, I work in the reverse of what some other reviewers might do. Every book starts at 5 stars, before I ever turn a page. I figure that I wouldn't have picked it up if it didn't interest me.

I agree - not so much that they start at 5-star but that they start as a blank slate. In the first evening reading I assess a rating based on my initial impression. Then the rating goes up or down based on how the book progresses.

message 48: by Libby (new)

Libby I relate to 4,6,9,10, and 12

message 49: by Dew (new)

Dew When I give a book five stars, that means :
* I couldn't put it down ;
* I relate somehow to the characters ;
* I was speachless when I finish it ;
* It took me some time to read again ;
* And it will always be a part of <3

I also give a book five stars when the plot is excellent.

message 50: by Laurie B (new)

Laurie B Great list! As many others have said, a five-star novel will pull me in completely and make me forget everything around me. I won't be able to put it down, and when I do have to return to the real world, I will keep thinking about the book, waiting anxiously for a chance to return to its pages. Then, in the end, it will stick me with long after I've finished the last word. In nearly every case, it's a book that I look forward to reading again in the future.

Books like this are rare and special, and as such, I feel they deserve a higher rating than more common books that I enjoy on a less grand scale. Therefore, I end up giving mostly four-star ratings to very good books, saving my five-star ratings for the best of the best.

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