When I started a book review blog (Book Frenzy) in 2010, I rated my reads on a 1-to-10 scale. Then I switched to a 1-to-5 scale, similar to that used at Amazon. One of the differences between Amazon and this site is that here only one person evaluates: me. I don't take free copies, I don't slant my reviews, and if it's a friend (such as Irish author Ann O'Farrell or Endangered author Eliot Schrefer) I'll tell you in the review. There are a great many reviewers of integrity out there, but we all know there are some that are not, and because of their incredible volume, some do show up on Amazon.
NOTE: I no longer review friends' books. Too stressful. I like my friends too well and I want to keep them.
You may not agree with my evaluation of a novel's writing. Understand that I am as sincere and as unbiased as I can be. I'm clear in my mind what makes a good book (I am a devoted fiction writer and sometimes-editor, after all), and if a novel lacks something, I'll try to say it without any pussyfooting around. Most of the time. If a book doesn't rate a 3, I generally don't review it here.
I've been sent books, by acquaintances, and it's hideously embarrassing when I can't even finish the thing. I won't review a book I have to really slam. I know how hard writing is, and how devastating a poor review can be; but for heaven's sake, author, get your manuscript edited and peer-reviewed before you put it out to the public. And if you do get a bad review from me, don't get hyper, I'm only one person. If you get a half dozen bad reviews, though, you'd better pay attention.
If a book is rated 1, it wasn't worth the paper it was printed on. I have several New York Times Best-Selling authors in that category, but you'll never hear their names from me.
A 2 is just too much trouble to read: poor plotting, stilted dialogue, lousy atmosphere. I rarely publish a review on these. But sometimes I feel it is necessary. I recently did a 2, and would be hard-pressed to explain why, other than that the novel had the possibility to be so much better than it was, and it was so painful to read the damn thing. And I also wondered why the well-respected publisher had even had it printed.
A 3 is a so-so book that you could take to the beach, maybe, but with See's bonbons and a really good red wine (try Zolo Malbec or Norton Shiraz) before an open fire it'd be a waste of your time. For that kind of ambiance you want something of quality, right? The exception to this is the first novel of a promising writer, and they are out there in their hundreds. Every writer improves as they practice their art (you don't believe me? Read some really early Elizabeth Peters: the promise was there, but the technique was not).
A 4 is worth reading if it's a genre or era you enjoy. A lot of books fall into this category. I'd guess 65% of the books I finish are in this category. So you'll see a lot of book reviews with a 4 or a 4+.
A 5 is, in the old Michelin terminology, "worth a trip". Few authors hit the 5's every time, and at this level some of the evaluation is subjective. Maybe I was just reading too many Victorian novels. Maybe I was overloaded on romances. Or maybe the book was fabulous and worth reading.
Sometimes there's a 5+. These are the knock-your-socks-off books: Bel Canto comes to mind, and The Andalucian Friend. In non-fiction, Edsel's Saving Italy qualifies (but for me, maybe not for you). In cookbooks, it's the Culinaria series. These are big, gripping, bold novels, almost always by seasoned authors. The cookbooks are just well-seasoned. Ha. Ha.
Above all, this is not a "sell the sizzle" site. You can get that off the back of the book. I'm interested in a straight-ahead evaluation, and hope you are as well. And NEVER A SPOILER. Absolutely never.
Remember, these are my reviews. They reflect my prejudices, my snobberies. You won't always agree with me...but I hope you'll come to trust me.
Recently, as I have begun to read more romance, or romance-tinged, novels, I've decided that a 1-to-5 scale on sexual explicitness would be useful. I'm all for people reading what they want, but that doesn't mean I want to read hard-core (maybe it's now called explicit? erotic?) sex scenes. I am no admirer of the novels that have sexual encounters that verge on rape; I'll mention the fact so you're forewarned. Smokin' hot (5) is one thing, forced sex or humiliating circumstances (and, you know, it's usually forced on the woman...aren't 5" heels with pointy toes humiliation enough?) is a fantasy I don't share. So my sex scale for romance novels is, roughly:
1 - huggin and kissin, some physical response (but no contact, for want of a better line in the sand, below the collarbones)
2 - and then add some serious fondling by both parties, collarbones to maybe bikini line?
3 - and then add penetration but not with the penis, still with graphic description. There's an amazing amount of this kind of scene out there.
4 - the whole shot, graphically described for maybe pages. I'm not making any promises on whether or not it's too much sex, those limits are sooo personal.
5 - over and over again, with all the bells and whistles, including anything-goes. A 5+ is shameless non-Vanilla sex, same-sex sex, etc. that ought to be printed on asbestos.
This is not to exclude erotica from consideration. I belong to a writer's group where one member is educating us all with an erotic novel. But erotica is in its own class, and I guess you'd have to say it's a 6. Honestly, the odds of me reviewing erotica are pretty slim.
I'll update this entire page as I have further thoughts (or find more typos!). I welcome your comments and your thoughts. Thanks for reading.
PS - Recommend me if you have the time and energy. It means a great deal to me to see the page view number slowly creep upward. I don't ask publishers for books and I don't take money for reviews, this is merely an endless labor of endless love. Thanks.