Allow me to be the millionth book reviewer to curse Goodreads for their lack of half stars. I’m sure you can all relate to the epic struggle of deciding between four and five stars. The book was good, but was it good enough to give it a perfect rating? But were the problems notable enough to warrant a full star off? It’s enough to make any sensible bookworm go mad, so today I’ll be sharing my checklist for a five star review.
- I am the captain of the cheerleading squad for strong female protagonists (HELPLESSNESS IS NOT A TROPE; IT’S ANNOYING).
- But really. Male, female, non-cis, just give me a protagonist that is
a badasscapable of taking on the challenges they’re given.
- Bonus points for sass and sarcasm
Some of my favorite protagonists:
Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas: Aelin Ashryver Galathynius. I feel like I don’t need to say anything more here—she’s quite evidently the best female protagonist ever written into existence.
Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge: Nyx is brave and defiant, but she’s also imperfect. It’s so easy to relate to her self indulgences because *shocker* people are realistically never infallible. I was swept away with her relatable narrative (and yes, she did earn plenty of bonus points for sass).
- Give me your twistiest, most unpredictable story lines. If I can guess the big reveal, you’re losing a star.
- If I feel like I have motion sickness from all the jerky transitions, you’re losing a star
- I HATE conclusions that leave a dozen loose ends to keep you up at night for the next
yearweek. I also HATE conclusions that wrap things up so soundly it seems like the characters’ lives end with the book. So, you might be asking, what do I like in a conclusion? To be completely honest, every novel is unique so there’s no one conclusion fits all—when it’s right, it’s right.
- I have such a crush on series that are super dynamic—series where the last book hardly even resembles the first.
- CLIFFHANGERS. They drive me insane and turn me into the ultimate obsessive fan girl, but I love them nonetheless.
Some of my favorite plots and conclusions:
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor: This conclusion still has me puzzling things out months later. It’s one of the most open ended conclusions to a series that I have ever seen, and yet, it was done in a way that made perfect sense.
Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas: This is the perfect example of a dynamic plot line. Even the protagonist’s name evolves from the first to last book. PLUS THAT CLIFFHANGER AT THE END OF EMPIRE OF STORMS—LEGENDARY.
Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge: This may be one of the most complex standalone novels I have ever read. The conclusion is insanely unique and well crafted; it’s likely the most dynamic plot line possible in such a short amount of pages.
- If I’m not picking up a romance novel (which I never do), then the plot had better not revolve completely around the protagonist’s romantic relationship
- INSTA-LOVE IS NEVER REALISTIC. Love interests should earn their swoon worthiness, and chemistry should be based on personality over physical appearance.
- One of my favorite tropes is the “enemy to friends to lovers” romance (note the friends stage—I’m not buying that your love interest that treats our protagonist horribly is just a “troubled and brooding” nice boy in disguise). If an author pulls it off, they get major props.
- Keep your love squares/octagons/decagons/whatever-gons far far far away from me. Love triangles have a small margin of success, but 99% of the time it makes me want to throw the book out of a window
My favorite romances:
A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas: Ladies and gentlemen, I present you with Feysand, the ultimate OTP. The development between Feyre and Rhys (I won’t even start on how perfect Rhys is) is slow and purposeful; it has such deep roots and a beautiful progression that will always be my favorite.
Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas: Celaena/Aelin has multiple love interests in this series, but it’s never a tacky love triangle. She grows as a person and finds certain relationships no longer fit. This series also has the best enemies-to-friends-to-lovers romance, and there are so many incredible relationships besides the protagonist’s.
Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge: This has a semi love triangle that turns out to be something completely unexpected. It’s unlike any other romance I’ve ever experienced and definitely places in my favorite ships.
The Mortal Instrument: Maintaining a relationship for so many books is difficult, but Clare manages it perfectly. Jace and Clary are a classic couple and she also manages to write some incredible side romances with Alec x Magnus and Izzy x Simon.
- Please please please do not create two dimensional people whose lives exist only in reference to the protagonist’s.
- Character arcs are just as essential as plot arcs. Even the side kicks should be dynamic characters.
- There should be a variance in personality and voice among characters. Not everyone’s dialogue should read the same, and everyone reacts differently.
Kill your darlings
- But really, the best series have beloved characters who tear our hearts to pieces when they meet an untimely end.
The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater: I have never been so in love with so many characters. The entire Gangsey is so beautiful individually and in their relationships with the other characters and gah, I could spend hours gushing over how wonderful these characters are.
Cassandra Clare’s work: The expansive Shadowhunter world Clare has created is incredibly successful because she writes these compelling characters that cross over between series. She is also extremely accomplished at creating diverse characters.
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo: The multi point of view third person in Six of Crows lets you really get to know all the characters. It’s perfect for creating depth in a large pool of characters.
Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas: I might be just as attached to the supporting characters in this series as I am to Aelin. There are SO many incredible story lines interwoven in this series, and Maas does an incredible job of bringing them all to life.
- So I am a
lotlittle picky about writing style. Present tense writing has been picking up in popularity—and I hate it. I know, I know, it increases immediacy and draws readers into the action. Except nine times out of ten, it doesn’t. Present tense makes me feel distant and ruins the narrative flow for me. Notable exceptions: Cruel Prince by Holly Black, Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, ……..and that’s where the list runs dry
- An author can go from five stars to my favorite author/human/god with the right voice. Or it can fall flat and make a good book leave a bad taste in my mouth. Voice is the hardest literary element to practice or define, but it leaves the biggest imprint on readers.
The Cruel Prince by Holly Black: I had to include this book because it may be the only present tense writing I have ever enjoyed.
The Kiss of Deception by Mary E Pearson: The first book of this series is written with three point of views. Our two lead males, Rafe and Kaden are an assassin and a prince which is interesting in itself, but Pearson manages to write the book without ever telling us which one is which. I read this book in a day because the writing style was so addictive.
Everything Sarah J Maas: Sorry, I know, I’ve mentioned her work 500 times, but really she has such an incredible voice and her first and third person writing are both addictive.
There really aren’t any set in stone rules for rating books. If it keeps me up reading all night and has me thinking about it weeks later, chances are it’s getting a five star review even if it completely contradicts everything I typically like (in fact, those exceptions are often some of my favorite reads).