Because it’s good to state your levels of criteria up front, this is us codifying our standards.
All books start with Three Stars and move up or down from there.
Five Stars - I would highly recommend this book. I would happily reread it and give the author money for more. Nothing made me rant about this book.
Four Stars - I liked this book, but there was something that bugged me enough to rant about it. (Most books tend to end up here)
Three Stars - This book was okay/not my cup of tea. Or I liked it but there were 2-3 things that bugged me enough to rant about it.
Two Stars - I finished the book, but it wasn’t good. I ranted about more than three things but I didn’t want to throw the book across the room and drown in copious amounts of alcohol.
One Star - I didn’t finish the book. -or- Why was this book published? Can I get the time I wasted on this book back? There were so many things wrong I don’t know where to begin. I have ranted about this book for days.
Things that raise stars:
Engaging Characters (Each character can raise a star)
Realistic Characters and Setting
Accurate depictions of Persons of Color
Body positivity and variety
Accurate portrayal of mental illness
Tight Spelling and Grammar
People solving problems through communication not sex
Explicit consent (if supposed to be Romantic)
Would I buy the book?
Would I buy more from the author?
Would I recommend the book?
Would I reread the book?
Things that lower stars:
Racial Slurs (Leeway is given for older books not-reissued as well as books with a historical context)
Stalking portrayed as positive or romantic
Controlling behavior/manipulation portrayed as positive or romantic
Dubcon/Noncon/Rape portrayed as positive or romantic
Unlikable leads who do not grow or change
Inaccurate information that could be solved by a simple google search
Cardboard cutout characters
Problematic Tropes (aka Fridging, Rape as Drama, Angry Black Woman, etc)
Serious grammar/spelling issues in already-published (not ARC) books (for details, see below)
Some of this is ephemeral and skewed toward contemporary romance. We love a good historical. However we will always look at the dates of publication of the book, using the most recent as our guide for how we regard the more Social Justice issues.
As you may have noticed we are particularly tough on some of these, especially race, consent issues, and mental/physical health issues. Some notes:
Using food descriptions for PoC skintone is not an automatic star drop… especially if the book was published prior to 2005 and NOT re-issued (if it’s been re-issued after 2012 it doesn’t have an excuse… it is not hard to do a find and replace for the most common offenders - mocha, caramel, chocolate, and coffee). However it is something we will notice.
Use of racial slurs not in a historical context or as a slur or by persons of that ethnic group as a “reclaimed” name is a star drop. Here is a list of ethnic slurs and what we use as a guide.
Falling into stereotypes is never okay. Especially if they are damaging stereotypes.
Fetishizing and Othering is not okay.
Consent must be enthusiastic and ideally verbal. Portrayals of dubcon/non-con as sexy and romantic are automatic star drops… if it is egregious enough, it will make it a one star.
Disabled characters cannot magically get better unless it is stated at the outset that the condition is reversible.
Mental illnesses need to be portrayed with the same care as physical illnesses. Basically they should not be stigmatized and the treatment of mental health should not be stigmatized. A character may not trust a psychologist, but psychologists should not be portrayed as useless.
There are some caveats.
If we cannot finish a book, it’s an automatic One Star unless the reason for us not finishing is our fault… aka it hits one of our weird triggers. In that case, we will either not review the book or pass it to another reviewer. (Yes there is more than one of us reviewing.)
The most common reason for us to not finish a book is because we became bored, the pacing was off, or we couldn’t connect with the characters.
Regarding SPAG (Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar), we are more tolerant of Indie published books than we are of traditionally published books. Traditionally published books are allowed 1 error per 25 pages, small press are allowed 1 error every 20 pages, indie published are allowed 1 error every 15 pages. If we receive an ARC with numerous errors, we will look at what we can see of the Amazon preview before marking it down stars due to SPAG.
Five Star books are not perfect and may not appeal to everyone. By the same token, One Star books may not be completely horrible.
We hope this helps people!
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