This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for a while since I know everyone has a different view of what constitutes a specific number for a rating. Some people may consider a 6 good while others may consider it bad or mediocre. I did write a post like this a long time ago, but considering my husband may have very well been the only person who read this blog at the time, it’s time for a new one. Also, I think I’ve been able to figure out which one means what to me better than back then. I think I will start linking to this post in each review in case anyone is wondering the basic idea behind the number given to a book.

To Rate or Not to Rate

One of the reasons I’ve put off writing this for so long is that in spite of the fact that I do use them, I think the contents of the review itself are far more useful and important than the rating. After all, tastes differ – I’m not (too) delusional and realize I’m not the sole authority on what makes a good book. Just because I liked or disliked a book does not mean you will have the same experience with it I did. So it’s more important to read the specifics of the review and see if it sounds appealing to you or not.

There have been many posts on various blogs about why or why not to rate and a lot of people believe they are useless. Honestly, I can’t say I disagree with any of the points that are brought up against using a numeric ratings system. They do vary because sometimes I am torn between whether or not to rate based on actual writing skill or how much I personally liked the book, and sometimes after some time passes, I may decide a book should have been one point lower or higher than what I gave it depending on how much it did or did not stick with me (which is one of the reasons I do the end of the year favorites list). Sometimes I do worry that some people put more emphasis on them than the review, and then I obsess over the number too much when it’s not the most important component of the review.

In general, I now try to rate mostly based on what I thought of it just so people with similar taste can get a better overview of just how much I liked it (when this blog was in its early stages, I couldn’t make up my mind so I did not always do it that way). I know that there are some reviewers whose taste is similar enough to mine that if I see they gave a book a rating of 9 or higher, I snap that book up and don’t tend to be disappointed.

There have been a couple of times I’ve considered getting rid of ratings, but I’ve always decided to keep them for three reasons:

1) It’s fun even if I do get neurotic about what to rate a book sometimes. I like seeing a general measurement of how much someone did or did not like a book when I visit other blogs.
2) I think it is helpful in cases of extreme ratings. For instance, if a book is rated 9 or 10 I really loved it no matter what quibbles I pointed out (and I do try to point out areas that others may have issues with even if I personally was not all that annoyed by them so sometimes I’m afraid of making it sound like I enjoyed a book far less than I did). That may not be useful to some people, but to others who tend to enjoy the books I really love, seeing a very high number may be.
3) If you do happen to find them useful, ratings are there. If not, you can always ignore them.

So that is my (rather long-winded) view on ratings. Essentially, I think they are subject to slight changes over time and not nearly as important as the written part of the review, but they may be helpful to some people if they are extreme enough.

Decoding the Numeric Ratings

Here is the basic logic behind what the numbers I give a book mean.

10 – This is without a doubt one of my very favorite books I have ever read. (I believe I have only given out two 10s – one to The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit by Storm Constantine and The Virtu by Sarah Monette.)

9 – Loved it.

8 – Great.

7 – Good. I consider 7 to be the average good book. It’s one that I liked well enough to want to read more in the series/by the author but I’m not head-over-heels in love with it.

6 – Somewhat good. It had some good points but on its own it didn’t make me want to read more in the series/by the author (which doesn’t mean I won’t, particularly if it is by an author who has written other books I’ve enjoyed – just the individual book didn’t quite meet “average good” for me).

5 – It’s ok. Can’t say I liked it but can’t say I actively disliked it either. (Since I tend to be able to see the good and bad points to most things, I give this one a lot more than a rating meaning I outright didn’t like it.)

4. Slightly disliked it.

3. Didn’t like it.

2. Hated it.

1. Despised it with every fiber of my being. (This is the only rating I have never given out.)

If I’m torn between two ratings, I rate it somewhere in the middle; i.e., 7.5 means pretty good, somewhere between good and great. Basically, if it’s at least a 7, I thought it was worth spending time and money on.

So that’s my view on ratings and why I use them even though I completely understand where the people who are dead set against using them are coming from. Hope that is helpful to at least some people!

And, no, it doesn’t have to be this one. ;) Once again, the Preditors and Editors Readers’ Poll for best review site is open. It will be until January 14.

I was really surprised to see several of my favorites missing from the list and I wish I could add them all. It seems like a lot of the ones that were on there last year are missing, at least so far. Maybe I just caught it late last year after just about everyone had already voted.

I hope everyone is having a happy 2010 so far! Now that the holidays are over, I’m starting to get back into writing reviews (four left at the moment). Of course, as of tomorrow, my vacation is also over, but I suppose that means I’ll be going through fewer books than I have been over the last week.

This week I’ll be going back to the old format since I have a much more manageable number of books for the week – one.

Of Darkness, Light, and Fire by Tanya Huff

This is an omnibus containing two unrelated books, Gate of Darkness, Circle of Light and The Fire’s Stone. The first one is urban fantasy and the second is traditional fantasy. I received this as a gift from a friend. We made a deal this year in which we each picked three of our favorite books from 2009 and the other person has to read those three books in 2010 (the first favorite one has to be read by the end of February). One of her three picks for me was The Fire’s Stone so I’ll be reading that one sometime in 2010 (along with Duma Key, which will be my first Stephen King book, and one other book that I’ll talk about when I get it – that’s the one I need to read by the end of next month). I’m looking forward to reading both of these books since I’ve been wanting to read something by Tanya Huff (shame on me, I have another omnibus containing two science fiction books by her I haven’t read yet).

by Kristin Cashore
480pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 8/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.29/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.17/5

The YA fantasy Graceling is Kristin Cashore’s debut novel. Her second novel Fire, a loosely connected prequel set 35 years prior to Graceling, came out last year. Cashore does recommend reading Graceling first to avoid spoiling part of it, and even though I read these two books in reverse order, I can understand why since it would have taken me a lot longer to guess what was coming if I had not read Fire first. Currently, Cashore is working on a sequel to Graceling called Bitterblue, which takes place about six years after the end of it.

Sixteen-year-old Katsa’s two different colored eyes mark her as one of the Graced, people with a specific super-human ability. Some people may be Graced with storytelling, mind reading, or dancing, but each person’s ability is at least somewhat unique. When Katsa was eight years old, she hit a man who seemed a little too interested in her – with enough strength to kill him. Ever since then, her uncle the king has found his Graced killer useful for keeping his subjects in line and calls on her to threaten those who aren’t behaving as he’d like.

Katsa hates her uncle and the jobs he makes her do, and she formed the Council in order to do some good. Together she and her friends in the Council set out to rescue an old man, the father of the Lienid king, who has been kidnapped by one of the other kings for an unknown reason. While there, she meets a Graced fighter but lets him live in spite of her better judgment. Soon the two become friends and work on discovering the motives behind the disappearance of the old Lienid.

After reading Fire and loving it enough to include it in my favorite books read in 2009, I of course had to read Graceling. I was a little worried I’d end up disappointed with it, mainly because I had heard Fire was an improvement over the first book. Fire is in my opinion the stronger of the two books – it’s more polished and better paced, plus I loved Fire more than Katsa as a protagonist. Yet Graceling was still very good with several of the elements that made me enjoy Fire so much – it was very readable and hard to put down once it got going, it had a great female lead with some complex problems, it contained some other wonderful characters, and it was not a perfectly happy story where everything works out 100% perfectly for everyone.

It’s probably no surprise that the highlight of this book for me was the characters. Katsa is very hot-tempered and often angry, particularly since she despises her role as her uncle’s torturer but feels like she has no choice but to obey the king. It is fun to see her grow throughout this novel, and the people in her life who help her along the way are such endearing characters – her cousin Raffin and Po. There is a bit of a love story and I think Cashore writes romances very well. Katsa is not a brooding, angsty woman who thinks of nothing but getting married and having children (quite the opposite since she is quite vocal about her desire to do neither). Falling in love is not in her plans, but it happens in spite of herself and even when it does it never makes her lose sight of her goals.

The way the story unfolded was also very well done. Part of it I knew about due to reading Fire first, but I really enjoyed the extra complexity that was revealed about the Graces. Katsa and Po’s Graces were not as straightforward or simple as initially portrayed and learning more about them and what it meant for both characters was enjoyable, if somewhat too convenient at times.

Graceling is another lovely book by Kristin Cashore with a strong, complex female lead. Between this novel and Fire, it’s guaranteed I will pick up anything written by this talented new author.


Where I got my reading copy: I bought it.

Other Reviews:

Review(s) of related books:

The Better Part of Darkness
by Kelly Gay
416pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.3/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.46/5

The Better Part of Darkness is a debut novel written by Kelly Gay. The sequel to this urban fantasy, The Darkest Edge of Dawn, is supposed to be released in August 2010.

Charlie Madigan works for Atlanta’s Integration Task Force, which monitors immigrants whether they are from this dimension or one of the two other dimensions discovered thirteen years before. Together with her partner Hank, a siren from one of these other dimensions, she is called in to investigate a student found unconscious on the bathroom floor at a local school. It turns out that Charlie knows the girl rather well – Amanda has been a baby-sitter and a sort of big sister to her twelve-year-old daughter Emma. Further examination reveals that Amanda is a victim of ash, a dangerous drug suspected to be from another world about which very little is currently known. Charlie determines to discover the truth about ash; meanwhile, she must also contend with the foggy memories of her recent resurrection from the dead and the strange occurrences that have been happening to her ever since.

After seeing rave reviews about The Better Part of Darkness and reading the first few pages, I was really looking forward to reading this book and moved it way up my to-read pile. It seemed fast-paced and easy to get into, and as far as I’m concerned, an urban fantasy without vampires is always a plus. The alternate world with beings from other dimensions instead of the usual paranormal suspects sounded intriguing. At first, I did enjoy this book, but toward the end I found I was bored with it and only reading it to finish it and move on to the next book. It’s been hard for me to figure out why because there is nothing that stands out to me as irritating or bad about this novel. I simply lost interest before it was over. At first I thought maybe it was because one of the first urban fantasy series I started with was Mercy Thompson and I love Mercy as a character so much that everything else falls short. Even so, I still really enjoyed several books in the genre I read after that and didn’t think were quite as good, though – Blue Diablo by Ann Aguirre and Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire, for instance.

Largely, it may have been because it just seemed to lack character depth. Charlie may appear slightly different since in spite of being the typical smart-mouthed cop urban fantasy heroine with some vulnerability, she is also a divorced single mother raising a preteen daughter. Overall, she just didn’t feel unique to me, and all the other characters felt like they had a couple of interesting surface characteristics or quirks but no real personality that made them just come alive to me. Even though the villian did have motives for what he did, he felt very cookie-cutter evil to me and I tend to like characters who have some redeeming qualities instead of just seeming dastardly all the time. There was one character who had some definite potential, but he did not show up nearly often enough to make up for the rest.

The plot was fast-moving and it did have some high points, such as learning about what really happened with Charlie’s death and what kinds of consequences her resurrection had. Yet it still was not compelling enough to really make me want to read more.

The Better Part of Darkness had some interesting ideas for a different take on an urban fantasy world, but the characters failed to capture me. Quite frankly, I was tired of the book by the end and ready to just be done with it and move on to a new book. It wasn’t a bad book but it also wasn’t one that made me eager to read the next one in the series. However, I do seem to be in the minority since most people loved this one, so if it sounds at all interesting, perhaps it would be a good idea to read some of the other reviews linked to.


Where I got my reading copy: It was sent to me by the publisher.

Read Chapter One

Other Reviews:

Today is the beginning of comic book appreciation month over at Temple Library Reviews. It sounds like it will be a fun time with reviews of comics (including Fables) and interviews with people in the industry. For more information on what to look forward to during the entire month of January, read the official post.