Up front, I need to tell you: three stars is positive. Two stars is “okay,” that is I’m ambivalent or indifferent about the book or show. I’ll usually tell you why. Four stars means I really like it. Five stars I’m trying to reserve for books and movies which are special. Why they’re special will vary and I’ll tell you why in the review.
While I use the usual five star rating scale, I’m trying to be more rigorous. Previously, a book I liked got four stars, now it gets only three.
I made that alteration in 2014 so that my four and five star ratings really meant something. I don’t want to give only 1 and 5 star ratings, then whine because the scale is so restrictive.
There’s a sixth rating: “gave up.” I apply what I variously call the 50-page and the 100 page test. As Frank Zappa said, “So many books, so little time.” Some books are so bad that I quit them within the first ten pages; those you’ll never hear about–I delete them from my database. But some books seemed to have enough quality that I soldiered through 50 or 100 pages (depending on the length of the book and the deepness of my exasperation) before I quit. Those reviews (and the single star ratings) tend to only posted on Goodreads.com unless I feel you need to know.)
I’m not especially qualified for reviewing books other than liking to read. I am a college graduate and have a master’s degree. I’ve read thousands (of documented) novels and hundreds of non-fiction books. I’ve attended half a dozen writing conferences as I struggled to learn the craft myself. I know from first-hand experience that it’s harder than it looks. Few of us can be Tolkiens or Rothfusses; in fact, I’d settle for producing the page-turning excitement of a David Weber space opera or be able to evoke mood like Jodi Picoult.
I have adolescent tastes and standards. Engaging characters and strong plots are preferred, and happy endings, especially unexpected ones. I like humor. Not big on graphic or gratuitous violence or sex. Most of all I like the story that’s believable in its context (especially hard in science fiction, where so few authors passed high school physics). As Coleridge suggested, I’m willing to suspend my disbelief but I expect the author to meet me halfway with a coherent tale.
Likewise, I have no special credential for reviewing movies; I probably see many fewer than the average American and most of them on video.
So, my ratings are conservative but, I hope, informed.