I do not give star ratings to everything I review. I use them in posts on books, films, plays and operas, but I don’t rate exhibitions or musical recitals. Below you’ll find an explanation of what each rating level means. These criteria were originally designed for book reviews, but the same principle applies in other cases. I also employ half stars if I can’t quite decide where something belongs.
Please note: I am not one of those reviewers who automatically gives something five stars if she gets it for free. If it is perfectly sound, it gets three stars. Fortunately lots of things are good enough to get four stars. If something receives either one or five stars, the review will be worth reading either way.
5 stars – Excellent
So well-written or conceived that I can lose myself completely in the world, with an engrossing plot and fully-realised characters who feel almost real to me within the context of that world. Yet its excellent formal qualities are accompanied by real ‘heart’, so that I become emotionally involved with it. Whatever genre it belongs to, it transcends the conventions of that genre and becomes something greater and more unique. Usually it leaves a kind of aftertaste – whether that be glowing happiness or bittersweet sadness – which can linger in my mind for days.
4 stars – Good
A work of fine merit, and perfectly enjoyable, which nevertheless falls just short of perfection for me. That might be because, for all its very good formal qualities, it never quite manages to engage me emotionally. Alternatively it might be a firm favourite (or feature a favourite performer) but, despite my fondness for it, I can recognise some occasional weaknesses in the plot or writing. If it belongs to a particular genre, it might be an excellent example of that genre but never quite transcends it.
3 stars – OK
A perfectly sound work: not much to object to but, equally, not much to ravish the mind. It will be diverting, but there might be aspects of the writing, plot, characterisation or performance which didn’t work for me and which detract from my overall enjoyment. If it belongs to a particular genre, it is a solid example of that genre but I may feel that it pales in comparison to other works by the author, composer or performers.
2 stars – Not great
Dull, derivative or contrived, with weaknesses in writing, plot, conception or performance. It might simply be that I don’t gel with the particular writer, genre or style, so it still might be worth you giving it a go if you think it would suit.
1 star – Avoid
Objectively, excruciatingly awful. Life is too short. (There are unlikely to be many of these, but the posts are likely to contain ranting and may be amusing.)