I had a very interesting conversation with TJ Fox the other day. We were discussing reviews and rating systems and I said I never give a one star review (or five star for that matter), and I usually discount one star reviews as well. TJ asked- “Don’t some things warrant a one star?”

And I got to thinking…

Is there anything so bad that it should be given the lowest star count on a rating system?

What would make a book so bad that it would deserve only a star?

My thought process is that a book would need to lack in all areas. The plot would need to be ridiculous, the characters one dimensional, the dialogue unbelievable, the setting mundane and lifeless. There would be no rhyme or reason to the chapters or structure. it would need to make no sense. And the grammar would need to be completely off the mark. I have yet to meet a book that lacks in all these criteria simultaneously.

When reviewing something, what goes into it? When you tell someone “Don’t read” or “Do Read” or “Must read” on what basis are you setting that? How much of that is personal preference?

I have a really good friend S. Her taste in books is opposite mine. She never enjoys the books I like. Is she wrong? Am I wrong?

No. Because that’s the problem with reviews: you can be biased by what genre or style you like or don’t like.

I recently read Taylor Jenkins Read “Daisy Jones and the Six”. The story unfolds in an interesting way: from the perspective of someone making a documentary of a band. So the story is told in snippets of how interviewees answered questions. I thought it was a brilliant way to tell a story of this sort. I love quirky ways of telling a story. Others don’t. How fair is it to give this book a one star review because you don’t “like” the method? (I saw one star reviews of this book, so this is a legitimate concern)

I don’t like science fiction. Just don’t like the genre. Would it be fair of me to rate a sci fi book one star?

I did not like the TV show “Breaking Bad”. I stopped watching after season two. I also only watched one episode of “Game of Thrones”. Is it fair for me to say DNF (did not finish) or one star because it’s not my taste?

This week I talked about book to movie adaptations: plot changes, characters eliminated or changed, miscastings…. To someone who has read and loved a novel, the adaptation of it just falls short. But what if someone never read the book and just watched? I never read the Inspector Lynley books, but I thought the series on PBS was pretty good. But Jane Fritz thought that it was totally miscast. We would rate it differently because we are viewing it from two different angles. Would it be fair for Jane to give it a one star because it’s not what she wanted to see based on her preconceived ideas?(to be clear, Im using this as an example- I don’t know what she actually would rate the series) Just like me with the Malkovich Poirot: I thought it was HORRIBLE because I am a Poirot purist. But what if I had never picked up a Christie? Would I still think it was horrible?

So…

How does one write an impartial review? How do you divorce personal preference and just look at the bones of a work? What should a review be based on?

 

55 thoughts on “One Star

  1. Those are great questions! I don’t think a review can be unbiased. You aren’t analyzing a research paper, nor critiquing a medical article ready to be published in a journal. Literature and adaptations of that literature are always influenced but what and how we imagine the story should be. Not everyone likes the same thing. I never pay attention to reviews when it comes to books or TV. Most of the time it works. Sometimes I’m wrong and just stop watching or let the book go. Part of the enjoyment is the anticipation of wondering “did I pick a good one?”

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I am not a slave to reviews, I will see something just because the subject interests me. But…that being said, if I’m looking for a movie I will look at rotten tomatoes for a composite, and I do get an average off amazon or goodreads. And I’ve loved 3 star things and hated 5 stars, so there you go

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  2. I don’t think you need to be impartial when reviewing anything. You just have to be kind and realistic. BUT, it is after all, your own personal opinion and should be written as such.
    I always start out by first listing the things I liked. If I can come up with a few positive things then for sure I can give whatever it is I am rating, a few stars. But if you go in just thinking about what you disliked, you will tend to rate something more negatively.

    Example… I remember my first year teaching, a child psychologist spoke to a large group of beginning teachers. He said that each morning when we walk into our classrooms we should focus on ONE thing we liked about each child. Even if that one thing was something like, Little Timmy wore clean clothes today. It was the best advice I was ever given. I used to always hear teachers griping about particular students in the teacher’s lounge and I never understood why they would do that. Mainly because I always found something positive about every child. And for some children, it was that they came to school well groomed. But at least it was something!!! Lesson learned… Look for one positive thing!!

    Now, certainly human beings are more valuable than movies or books. But, the concept is the same. If I hate a movie because I feel it was miscast, but I found the lighting or editing interesting, or the costumes historically accurate, then at least I can find something redeeming in it. The Poirot we both disliked was difficult to find positives. But again, the wardrobe people did a fine job. The lighting was dark and spooky to create the right effects too. (True it was not to my taste) but I could see that the director wanted to tell a dark story. so I would have probably rated it 3 stars saying it was gritty, dark, and not in keeping with Agatha Christie’s vision of Poirot. Because it wasn’t. But some of the actors gave good performances and it was indeed historically on point. Maybe it’s the teacher in me, always looking first for the positives. (giving points for what the student got right.) So I rate things like I graded. I take into account the effort put into something. If it missed the mark so be it. But I do try to find the positives. I think I only have rated one movie 1 star and that was a Sybil Ludinton dvd that I purchased for my classroom. (She was a young woman who rode further than Paul Revere). It was put out by a church group and advertised as a regular movie. Instead it was filled with people who weren’t actors reciting lines terribly . Worse than any high school production I have ever seen. The sound, lighting , everything was so bad and amateurish. I gave it one star for effort because they had period costumes rented, but wrote in my review that I never would have bought it had I known it was a home movie made purely for religious intent. I thought, when I bought it, it was a historically accurate film about this particular young girl who was, until recently, lost to history. They misrepresented what they sold. (Thank goodness I reviewed it first. I never showed it to my students because it was bad and just threw it in the dumpster.) THAT was a one star rating!
    MOST books and movies deserve better. Authors and film makers work hard. They do deserve a little kindness when judging them. Just my opinion. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s sort of how I feel. They’ve worked really hard, they should get at least a little praise. And I too always try to find the positive in something…great costumes, interesting set design, camaraderie between actors….I do not think I’ve ever seen something that has no redeeming value….but them I’ve never seen “room” tommy wissau one

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  3. I never have fully understood reviews. They are one person’s perspective on a certain book. Does it have any relevance to me? Not really. Just because they feel a certain why doesnt mean I’m going to. I do judge book by its cover but should the next person do the same? I dont think so. Reviews are nice to some degree but I usually take them with a grain of salt.

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  4. Lol. For the record, I would have rated the Inspector Lynley series a 3/5, with the blame going to the director who co-opted excellent books and reinterpreted the characters into ones that were far less interesting. The books I would rate 5/5 for that genre.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I guess the question is, who’s review do you value? Do you read random reviews by any Joe Blow or Jane Doe? (I rarely do). Do you read reviews made by people you know/respect/like based on past experiences or common interests? If I know you hate scifi I probably won’t read a review from you on a a scifi book especially if I like scifi.

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    1. That’s a good point. Do you have favorite reviewers that you have the same taste as. There used to be a Nyc movie reviewer Joel Siegel. Our opinions were similar so I always relied on it

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  6. When I review books, I think about all the elements (character, plot, story, worldbuilding/atmosphere, prose, etc.) and try to decide if they were done well and if they helped the book to achieve its goal, whatever that goal was.

    With Samantha Shannon’s book, The Priory of the Orange Tree, for example, I found that, while the worldbuilding was excellent and the characters were (mostly) well developed, the story meandered, the main plot was largely subsumed by sub-plots until the last quarter of this 800+ page book, and it was often plagued by overwrought prose. I ended up giving it three stars.

    With Sarah J. Maas’s book, Heir of Fire, I found flaws at every level- the characters were one-dimensional, the plot was non-existent until the very end when a deus ex machina event occurred and was the only thing that spurred the characters on to do anything at all about the series’ overarching plotline, the worldbuilding was non-existent, and even the sentence by sentence construction was poorly done. Basically, this fantasy novel read like the author had only a vague familiarity with any fantasy novel written before hers, and her lack of sense about actual landscapes made it sound like she thought Central Park was a sprawling wilderness. Add to that the fact that the only female characters who displayed traditionally “feminine” traits (nurturing, healing, etc.) were violently murdered, and you have a book that failed on every level. I gave it one star.

    Fantasy is favorite genre, so I was primed to enjoy the heck out of both of these books, but they had faults that kept me from loving them, and Heir of Fire’s flaws were so egregious that they still irritate me.

    So yes, I think books/movies/plays/etc. can be worthy of only a one-star rating if everything about them is flawed or done poorly. Just because someone works hard at something doesn’t mean they’ve done it well, and if it goes out into the world, it rises and falls on its own merits, not on its creator’s intentions.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Kim, I totally get where you are coming from. I was in the frame of mind of movies taken from books when I wrote my comments above. But, after reading what you wrote, I have to admit that I would definitely be harsher and more critical of a novel I was reading than a movie I decided to watch.

      I taught writing for more than 3 decades so I am extremely critical of bad grammar, poor plotting, and one dimensional characters. And sometimes I just get annoyed because so many novels today are written in the first person. Ick! So, yes, I would indeed be more likely to rate a book with less stars if I found it lacking in substance. In film it is totally different. The director’s vision is often very different from the authors OR, he or she has to cow tow to the producers in order to get the film made. And then there is a time limit and some of the best parts wind up on the cutting room floor during editing. My youngest son is an assistant director in the film industry and he often states that rewrites happen daily. Well known actors put in their vision and if the director likes it, then it winds up in the film or the TV show. It all depends on the people behind the scenes.
      In the middle of shooting the main director might get an idea and then suddenly everything changes. That’s where technology comes in and via iPad actors and crew are instantly sent rewrites and their schedules and or lines changed. So what we see on film may get further removed from the original book as filming progresses. It just depends on the vision or creativity of the main director. It is an interesting process. A book is a book and can be judged strictly on its merits alone.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. You are one of the few people I would accept a one star review from. You look at things logically and carefully consider the criteria and sections on individual merits. Most people don’t think long and hard about what they’re writing. I’ve seen a one star review with just the words “ridiculous” next to it. How is that a valid review? How many one stars do you think you’ve given?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It annoys me so much when people review something with a single word or sentence. How does that even help people decide whether or not they want to read/see/use the thing being rated?

        I haven’t given too many one star reviews. There are five or six that I can think of out of a few hundred ratings. Most books are average, some below average, but not many fail at everything.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. All reviews are biased, aren’t they? Not that it’s a bad thing, but like when you watch cable news stations you have to understand the inherent pov in the presentation of the news reporting. Same thing for book or TV or movie reviewers. I’d say that as long as the reviewer is even-handed and open about their personal preferences, I’d respect what they say. Just not necessarily agree.

    Do you listen to pop culture happy hour podcast from NPR? Those reviewers tell you their biases, then go on to examine whatever they’re talking about. I like that they differ in their perspectives.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. I had to laugh when this post popped up in my feed. I had wondered if our conversation would spark a post.

    I do think that the purpose of reviews is to give your opinion. As I said, why even have a 1 star option if it is viewed as invalid. Yes, there are absolutely people who leave spiteful reviews (actually JUST saw one) because they don’t like the genre and I do agree that is so wrong or they will abuse their ability to leave 1 stars and low ratings just because they can.

    I did sit back and think about how I review and why. Something that I often do when I write a more negative review is to attempt to appreciate even the parts I don’t like and mention that. I was asked to read a book that fell solidly in the horror genre and I don’t like those books. It wasn’t in the blurb and I wasn’t aware of this before I read it. I did mention that in my review, but I also said that because of the level of detail that the author wove into their story, lovers of that particular genre would probably love the book. Sometimes I do struggle to see that side and is often why I will drop a rating lower.

    I actually do read reviews of books when I’m struggling to find something to read, especially if it is a book by an author I’m not familiar with. A lot of times, I will look specifically for those low reviews to see if what sparked that reaction is something I would also have a problem with. Most of the time it is easy enough to look past those that are spiteful or written because they didn’t like the genre. If there aren’t really any past those issues, I’m willing to potentially try that book.

    The flipside of this, and something I saw just the other day, is people saying they won’t even consider a book with all 5 stars as they just assume those are from friends or are paid. While I’ve found myself guilty of this on low number ratings in the past, it is something that has kind of disturbed me seeing it tossed out there like that. Why do we jump to those kinds of conclusions so quickly? It is something I need to think on a bit more.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I must admit I’m in the too many five stars and I won’t read camp. My issue is that nothing is perfect. I don’t think I’d even give pride and prejudice five stars just because I think it’s a little too long and overly descriptive in spots. I just figure if someone gives five stars, I think there’s either a motive behind the five stars, or they’re not a discriminating reviewer. I like rotten tomatoes better

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I almost exclusively use 5 stars for books that are my absolute favorites that I’m willing to go back and read again, which with as much as I read, is really rare. Again, the 5 stars are there for a reason.

        I think the reason I was forced to really look at this is because, as of right now, with only 3 reviews (on Amazon at least), I’m sitting at 5 stars on my book and it bothers me that people would be unwilling to read it because of that. I know that those reviews are legitimate opinions of the readers, but other people seeing those reviews aren’t going to believe that because of some random reason? That bothers me and has made me really rethink that knee-jerk reaction.

        I have to say, I have been really forced to look at and evaluate my concept of reviews now that I can see both sides of it.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. The problem is it’s no longer two thumbs up or down.with the amount of ways to review things , everyone is a critic. I’ve become very jaded on both sides of the review game.. I try to pull out a few different reviews and get a general consensus

        Liked by 1 person

  9. So much to unpack in this post! I personally give 5 star reviews all the time. I try to read things I am going to enjoy and if it made me think, smile, laugh, cry, etc. I will give it 5 stars. I think most of the reviews I’ve written are between 3 and 5. Part of this may be because as an author I know how much work goes into getting published and I feel like that deserves a few stars as a starting point.

    If I DNF, I don’t review. If I read outside of my preferred genre (I don’t like SciFi or fantasy) I realize I’m not the target audience so my thoughts may not be valid to someone who appreciates that genre.

    You said you don’t give 5 star reviews. This puzzled me because I can honestly say there have been times where 5 stars doesn’t seem like enough. I have loved LOVED a few books so much that I want to give them more than 5 stars. This can be because of beautiful language, a perfectly crafted story that made me laugh, cry and think, or other reasons that made me want to shout from the rooftops.

    I have had a few books that everyone else highly recommended that I didn’t care for. This speaks to how we all look for different things in a book. Reviews are extremely important to authors (it’s a numbers game) but as a reader, I look more to friends whose opinions I respect than to reviews on Amazon or Goodreads.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think five means perfect. I wouldn’t give pride and prejudice five even though it’s my favorite book.. me giving a four is huge praise. I would rather book reviews were like rotten tomatoes reviews, out of 100, or have the ability to do halves and quarters.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Sorry…premature send…I think if I review things from now on I’m going to sub category it, and then rate each part individually and come up with a composite score

      Liked by 2 people

  10. I would never give a book review of less than 2. Reviews are subjective. Tastes differ, but all writers deserve credit for their work. I have never hated a book completely. I sometimes struggle (and usually with the critically acclaimed ones) but I always appreciate the efforts of the author

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  11. I can’t imagine not giving my favorite books 5 stars. I was also an easy grader when I was teaching.

    I have been in several conversations on this topic with other authors in person and on Twitter. None of us understand a glowing written review accompanied by 4 stars. I guess we have a different frame of reference from you. I have a frenemy who somehow became a Goodreads friend, now that I think of it she must have unfriended me because I haven’t seen her reviews lately. Anyway, she glows about a book saying it’s MUST READ and then gives it 4 stars. That seems wrong to me. Why be stingy with stars when they cost you nothing? I’m in a group of debut picture book authors and the topic of stars and negative reviews comes up frequently. So hard to see your ‘baby’ treated harshly.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I have my problem with the option of 4 or 5. I want quarters and halves. There are clearly things that are a 4.5, but no more. Flawless to me, is unobtainable, it means best ever, nothing will be better. Unless it’s my daughter and then she’s fkawkess

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Definitely good points and the reason why I like to read many, varied reviews of films, books, products, etc. What really seems unfair and a waste of time is ONLY leaving stars but no explanation.

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  13. All reviews are biased based upon our likes, dislikes and life experiences. I rarely write a review for a book that is two stars and have never given anyone one star because of all the work they put into actually writing that book. However sometimes a book may be written well and It just wasn’t to my taste. I usually say that in my review. If the main character is completely unlikeable? That’s a hard one to overcome for me because they are the impetus to the story moving forward. I usually just say that this is my opinion and I’m sure other people will love this character for the exact reasons I hated it. Case in point the my review of the YA novel The Ghost Hunter’s Daughter posted today. I really didn’t like the main character and felt ambivalent for the novel because of that. I did write that in my review. I also said other people would love it. That’s actually what I love about reading books and talking about them with people. No one person thinks the same way. It’s so subjective! I love that!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I do reviews on Goodreads, and have never given a one star review, the lowest is 2 or 3. Even if I don’t like the book, and think the writing/character/plot is godawful, a lot of work went into writing it, so I try not to be that harsh. I might find something to compliment about it, even if it isn’t to my taste. I have Daisy and the Six on order, hope it comes in soon. I could not even read Frances Mayes latest, See you in the Piazza, as it was 400 pages of basically restaurant reviews of obscure parts of Italy, but for a true foodie that would be a good thing, but it was well written…..just not the same as Under the Tuscan Sun.

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  15. Many good points in your post and the comments. Every review is biased and hopefully the reviewer will be up-front about them. I don’t read or write many reviews – frankly they are difficult to write well. As for giving stars, almost never. If I can provide some constructive feedback that might be helpful, fine, but rare.

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  16. I write my reviews solely on how much I enjoyed them and how invested I became in the story. I have reserved a 1 star rating for the books I DNF. I write a DNF review explaining how far I got into it and why I wasn’t able to continue with it.

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  17. You’d be amazed, or not, how often this comes up in book blogger convos. My feeling is that there are so many self-published books by individuals who have no idea about pacing, characterization, and plotting that surely there will have to be 1 star reviews. However, there are people who love the ideas or the subject matter and don’t care about writing who will give that book 5 stars. It’s opinion, not critiques.

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  18. A review is never impartial. If one doesn’t like a specific genre, then I’m not quite sure why s/he would read the genre AND review it; that alone is a set up for a low review.

    On the other hand, my grandmother recently sent me a book that is not something I would normally read. The content was awful. I gave an honest review, but added a disclaimer about the genre (e.g., if you like Christian books, then this is for you…).

    With that said, I agree. I’ve never given a 1 because it would assume that the book is all-around horrible, and I’ve never seen that.

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