In many ways, a five star read is a very personal thing. With our own individual tastes and expectations, what works for some won’t necessarily work for others. I also think there can be discrepancies in what the same reader looks for from genre to genre.
Generally speaking though, we all have our weaknesses; those literary devices that draw us in time and time again, greatly increasing the likelihood that we’ll dish out a much coveted five star rating. Aside from a gripping and immersive story, which sort of goes without saying, here are some features that I can’t help but love. I’d be very interested to know what equivalent elements work for you, so let’s chat about it in the comments.
I already alluded to liking books that are immersive, and for me, well-crafted atmosphere is the number one way to achieve that – hence why gothic fiction is my favourite genre. I want my books dark, brooding, and sinister; I want the hairs on the back of my neck to stand up, and a shiver to snake its way up my spine. If an author can transport me to their world and give me that feeling – which I usually refer to as ‘the five star tingles’ – they’re already well on their way to getting a perfect rating from me.
I love it when an author can blur the lines between right and wrong, with morally complex characters that feel fleshed out, and all the more believable for it. Give me a flawed hero or a redeemable villain over the clear-cut good and bad guys any day of the week.
Have you ever read a book so stunning in its use of prose that it leaves you feeling literally breathless? That it has you rereading passages to better absorb its stunning imagery? I adore that feeling. Obviously, there’s a time and a place for this, and overly poetic language doesn’t work well in certain genres; but when it’s implemented in a way that enhances the mood and impact of the story, drawing us deeper and deeper into the author’s world, it’s such an impressive feat.
This is a particularly personal one, I admit, but I suppose it goes along with the idea of atmosphere and immersion. There’s something about rural, isolated settings (think islands or woodlands; deep in a dessert or far out at sea) that instantly ramps up the atmosphere, and makes the stakes feel that much higher, allowing for an incisive exploration of its characters and themes.
I like my fiction like I like my onions (and my ogres) – with layers. By this, I mean I love it when an author can craft a story that works at face value as a damn good read, with a compelling plot and engaging characters, but which also hides greater depth of meaning with regards to its imagery and themes for those who care to look. It’s an amazing feeling when your appreciation for a book grows the more you reflect on it, picking apart its layers and discovering just how intricately it was constructed.
Stories about stories
Most of us read because we love stories, and I am no exception. That’s why I get excited when a book can deftly explore the beauty and power of storytelling itself. This can manifest in everything from a book being a re-telling of a classic myth, to characters that tell lies to protect themselves from the truth; and from meta works that reference other books, to characters that seek comfort in fiction. The more I look back on favourite reads, the more I can identify this as a theme that unites many of them.
There we have it; by no means a comprehensive list, but a few of the most frequently present elements of my five star reads. What makes a five star read for you?