Someone recently asked me about the scale I use for rating the books I review,  and the question left me with more questions.

Of course, everyone’s quantifying measures differ I suppose, one for every reader.

I’ve been reading books without pictures, grown-up books as my mother used to call them, since I was seven. I read everything I could lay my hands on with a dictionary beside me to make out the words I didn’t understand; in wonder and awe of the author this magical person who had written whatever book I was reading. Story aside, I would try to gain access into this author’s mind to understand where and why he or she had come up with such awareness or formed such wondrous conclusions. Was the moral depicting simply his or her opinion? Or was it the truth. Then what is truth right? A story for another day.

 I read in French, and by the time I was fifteen, I’d read so many biographies so much history so many novels, I wasn’t paying attention to the story anymore. I was detecting the soul behind the words and at times, I could feel the earth move through the edict.  By the way, Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain Fournier is one of my favorite characters. A memorable book I read when I was nine. I would give this one a 10, the only novel written by this author because he died very young, such a shame.

A few days after I turned fifteen, I put down a book, unfinished which was unheard of for me, and I found that I wasn’t the poorer for it. It never called me back. I stopped reading.

I began reading again four years later on a trip to Paris when I walked into a big Hachette bookstore on Les Tuileries Boulevard. After browsing, I came across the Whiteoaks of Jalna by Mazo de la Roche.

They were in English. I asked for the French version so surprised was I to find an English book in Paris. Yet there were none available. So I left with a collection of 10 out of 16 books. Although I was perfectly bilingual, I found myself again reading with a dictionary next to my lap. Later when I completed the collection, I made sure to purchase them in English. I’ve been reading in English ever since.

How do I rate the books I review? Not by the story they tell. You’ve probably guessed that by now. A story can be to my liking or not. I love happy endings, but if a story finishes oddly, then it’s not for me to say that it’s not a good ending. I took a course from Robert Mckee in Boston, a weekend long discussion of his book “Story”. His impression was that there are no more stories left in the world of books or movies. We look for action, fast-pace blurbs and flashes of ideas which no one ever develops into a full-blown story.

For me, escaping into a novel means getting to know the characters that will tread along the story’s arc. There are many stories while a slew of them are the same with only slight variations. What makes them breathe and live are the relationships between the characters. The dialogue they exchange and how one character handles the conflicts as compared to another.

So for a 5 star blockbuster:

– I need to be able to read a book to the end, of course. (I normally peek to see how it’s going to end. I’m that kind of reader).

What keeps me reading to the end? Don’t care about the story. Characters need to be breathing, alive with personality, boring or otherwise. I need to be able to picture these people even without a description. Picture your friend telling you a juicy bit of gossip. You have no idea who she is talking about. But the way she tells you gives you enough of an idea, right?  (Beach Music by pat Conroy, a definite 5)

– Characters, relationships between them and how real they are. Whether I am reading about Sci-fi, vampires, or paranormal entities, they behave much like we do or someone we can relate to. This is the criteria. After all we can claim literary license on scenery, area, weather and whatever else completes our story, but people are people no matter where they are. Morals may need to be adapted throughout the centuries, but people are the same the world over.

What makes a difference between a 4 or a 5? I’m not sure, actually. I can remember the characters one week after I’ve read a book, then it’s a 5. I have to fudge a little then it’s a 4. In my mind there is not much difference between a 4 and a 5—perhaps a little less vision into one of the main characters … I become less attached; hard to say.

I will NOT review any book that I cannot finish, of course, or that has one good character and poor secondary characters. Remember all this is subjective and based on my opinion only.

Chances are if you see your book on my blog, I will tell all who wants to hear that it is a GREAT book. I am not easily swayed.

Don’t fret if you don’t see your book on my blog. There are just so many hours in the day, and aside from having a full time job, I also spend my time writing, editing, and playing the role of grand-maman to five beautiful grand kids.

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13 Comments

    • What a lovely remark, Jane. You’re right, we do get to know each other through our writing. Besides, I have your book in my Kindle and it’s just a matter of time before I buckle down and read it.

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  1. I am so impressed with the fact that you started reading so young and that you can read French. You little smartie pants.

    I love that you are able to define the difference between a 5 star review and a 4. This was a good read. Very nice post Joss.

    BTW, I love that you mentioned Beach Music. Pat Conroy writes on an entirely different level than most writers!

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    • I love, love Pat Conroy’s work. He’s fabulous. As for French, my children grew up in a house where we spoke both French and English, yet all our TV was in English.
      All four are not only bilingual they are bicultural. It makes for a colorful lifestyle, let me tell you.

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  2. It’s really wonderful to read about how another author’s creation affects you and what you look for in 5 star book. Very nice that the story plays very little part. In that, you are not swayed either way. If the story is great, but written poorly, then it is a low rated book. Simple really.

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    • Yes, except that I will not give a rating below 4. I don’t think it’s fair. If I can’t finish a book, or I can’t mesh with the characters,
      then the only one who will know will be the author. Reading is so subjective. I refuse to give a bad review. Furthermore, I don’t believe a story can
      be great if the characters do not live and breathe, or if they appear handled instead of natural. Sommersby with Richard Gere comes to mind.

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  3. Hi Joss! I really enjoyed this post! Thank you for letting us thumb through some of the pages of your earlier chapters of life! I really got a sense of how the writer in you started to develop at such a tender age.
    I agree with your rating scale – when you get to know the characters because they are so well developped; when you love the book (or the movie, or the show) because you got attached to the life-like characters, it’s a 5
    Based on that scale, I give this blog post a 5!

    Mary

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  4. Thank you for addressing my blog and stopping by. Hope you get a chance to buy my book: Mirror Deep. Kirkus gave it a rave review, but it’s always nice when other people like it as well. It’s on Amazon in print and in kindle form. Thanks again. By the way, you can follow my blog if you wish. This way we can connect and help each other out. Joss.

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  5. Thank you for the kind words, and for addressing my blog and stopping by. Hope you get a chance to buy my book: Mirror Deep. Kirkus gave it a rave review, but it’s always nice when other people like it as well. It’s on Amazon in print and in kindle form. Thanks again. By the way, you can follow my blog if you wish. This way we can connect and help each other out. Joss.

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  6. You are so kind to notice my blog. Thank you for addressing this subject dear to my heart, and for stopping by. Hope you get a chance to buy my book: Mirror Deep. Kirkus gave it a rave review, but it’s always nice when other people like it as well. It’s on Amazon in print and in kindle form. Thanks again. By the way, you can follow my blog if you wish. This way we can connect and help each other out. Joss.

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  7. Thank you for the heads up and your wonderful tips. I am honored you dropped by, friend. Hope you get a chance to buy my book: Mirror Deep. Kirkus gave it a rave review, but it’s always nice when other people like it as well. It’s on Amazon in print and in kindle form. Thanks again. By the way, you can follow my blog if you wish. This way we can connect and help each other out. Joss.

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