How Not to Respond to Negative Reviews: The Kathleen Hale Edition

qB5Q8cOX[1]Do you want to hear some absolutely crazy shit? (This cannot be described in lesser terms, sorry.) There's a story that is burning up twitter today. Writing for The Guardian, author Kathleen Hale describes how she chose to respond to a negative review of her first novel.

No One Else Can Have You is a book with controversial themes, so it would be safe to assume that some reviewers are going to hate it, but Hale wasn't able to simply accept it and let go.

After that first bad review came in, Hale started stalking her reviewer online, and then went to the next level and expanded the stalking into real life. Hale got the reviewer's home address (which was confirmed by a publisher her publisher, HarperCollins) and after paying for a background check Hale showed up at the reviewer's home.

Okay, that is not quite how Hale described it in her piece, but my summary differs because I have stripped out her justifications so I could focus on simply reporting the facts of the situation.

Sidenote: Over on PasteBin, someone posted a similar analysis of Hale's description of her actions. If you read it you'll see that I am actually understating the issues here. (Thanks, Sunita, for the link!)

And in case you are wondering, some of the justifications I am leaving out include details about the reviewer's supposed past actions. I am skipping those details because they were reported by someone who is so far round the bend that she does not realize that stalking is bad, and also because Hale would not have the info if not for the fact that Hale was stalking the book reviewer:

“Europe” seemed a vague destination for an adult planning a vacation. But a few nights later, lit only by the glow of my screen, I watched in real time as Blythe uploaded photos of Greece to Instagram. The Acropolis at night. An ocean view. A box of macaroons in an anonymous hand.

The images looked generic to me, the kind you can easily find on Google Images, but then Blythe posted a picture of herself sitting in a helicopter. The face matched the tanned Twitter photograph.

“Fuck,” I said. What if she was real and had simply given the book club the wrong address?

Then Judy updated her Facebook profile with photographs of a vacation in Oyster Bay, New York. I clicked through and saw the holiday had started on the same day as Blythe Harris’s.

I know that there are authors who will instinctively take the side of Hale, but I would remind you that Hale rented a car, drove to the reviewer's house, and:

Before I could change my mind, I walked briskly down the street toward the Mazda parked in Judy’s driveway. A hooded sweatshirt with glittery pink lips across the chest lay on the passenger seat; in the back was a large folder full of what looked like insurance claims. I heard tyres on gravel and spun round to see a police van. For a second I thought I was going to be arrested, but it was passing by – just a drive through a quiet neighbourhood where the only thing suspicious was me.

Hale also expanded her stalking to include calling the reviewer at her day job.

If you still think Hale was in the right then perhaps I should add some context. After some digging, I found the original review which sparked this debacle. It was on Goodreads, and while I can't speak to the accuracy I do think it is an honest review.

Update: It's been pointed out to me that I probably linked to the remnants of a review, and not the review itself. To clarify, I see the remarks and the timeline on that GR page as being honest opinions and not the malicious behavior as implied by Hale.

I also found the book blog in question: Finding Bliss in Books 

Since this is a relatively straightforward situation, I have not done any digging to find dirt on the book reviewer. (I refuse to engage in blaming the victim.) I do however have more links which should provide a better understanding of Hale.

For example, she wrote on Thought Catalog that she has cyber-stalked at least one other person, and she previously wrote for The Guardian that she has displayed obsessive behavior.

***

To be honest, folks, I don't know what to say next. I went into this with the intention of shedding light on both sides, but this situation is so clearly one-sided that I simply cannot.

No matter how bad the review, there is simply no justification for the stalking. None.

And there is nothing else to be said.

About Nate Hoffelder (10961 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader: "I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

64 Comments on How Not to Respond to Negative Reviews: The Kathleen Hale Edition

  1. “It was on Goodreads, and while I can’t speak to the accuracy I do think it is an honest review.”

    Honest review ?!

    ” Blythe’s review Jan 30, 14
    1 of 5 stars
    bookshelves: arc, almost-fell-asleep, caught-in-a-bad-romance, doesn-t-deserve-the-hype, disappointments, hooray-for-masochism, judge-a-book-by-the-cover, no-stars-for-you, netgalley-edelweiss-arc, snark-bait-ooh-ah-ah, unmet-potential, was-warned-not-to-read-this
    Read in January, 2013
    Fuck this. “

    • I just clicked on the link. This post leaves out the running commentary as “Blythe” finished each part of the book. Just plain mean and nasty “review.” To simply say the review was “honest” is not really give a fair and balanced take on this story. And, according to the article, she did more than just write a bad review, she criticized good reviews and wrote bad things on twitter. And it turns out that Blythe was blogging under a false identity. Not a pseudonym, but a false identity, lying about who she was, where she lived, what her age was, what her job is, used stolen pictures, etc. I think the author should have let it go, and should not have gone to her house, but she didn’t go there with the intent to hurt her, just to confront her about her bad review and why she was lying about who she is. To say that Blythe posted an “honest” negative review, and the author went around the bend and stalked her is really a gross simplification of the situation, and entirely one-sided.

    • I’m pretty sure that is not the original review—seems she deleted the original text and replaced it with “Fuck this.”

  2. Not to mention someone with too much time on their hands.

  3. “There’s a story that is burning up twitter today, dividing authors and book bloggers.”

    Is it really dividing authors and reviewers? Because I’ve mostly seen authors on my twitter feed who were horrified by the stalking.

    I’ve been following it on and off for about 5 hours and I’ve only had one author comment in Hale’s favour, claiming that “thousands of reviewers bully, stalk” authors on a regular basis. That’s clearly someone who doesn’t understand what stalking means and that it’s a crime.

    About the review: yes on GR, the ‘review’ section only has ‘Fuck it’ but if you look below, the reviewer clearly states what she objects with and it is fairly major stuff (victim blaming, statutory rape treated as being fine, making light of severe mental illness, etc…) You’ll also find the comments below the review have some detail, intricate discussion with arguments being made intelligently.

    It’s not the best written review, but I can understand someone being frustrated and offended by a story. I’ve put books down before for that reason too.

    • Early on there was a lot of support for Hale. Later most came to their senses.

      I’ll fix the post.

    • Do you understand what Stalking means? It doesn’t mean a google search, background check, and a one time trip to someones door stop. For stalking to be illegal it has to involve harassment and intimidation and occur over a period of time.

      I’m not saying Hale was in the right but let’s not exaggerate and turn Blythe into a victim of stalking when for the majority of Hale’s article she is most likely completely unaware of Hale– if the woman Hale tried to contact was even Blythe at all.

      • Did you read the Guardian piece? She was watching this reviewer for months. This wasn’t something she did over a couple of days. This was an obsession for weeks that involved deception, planning and cost money. The background check was $20 and she rented a car, drove for I can’t even guess how long and spent significant amount of time tracking her down on the phone.

        Yeah, that’s stalking. I dare you to switch Hale’s gender – make her a man – and say this isn’t scary as hell.

  4. I have always been under the impression that Thought Catalog was a site for fiction.
    As for using an article about the sexual assault of the author as proof that she is obsessive, I find that to be in bad taste.
    This whole Harris/Hale ordeal is almost too much to even try to comprehend.
    “Fuck this” is not something I would consider to be an “honest review” or even a complete one. I cannot find anything amongst other reviews of this book to indicate that people were upset by the insensitive PTSD and rape tones, which is what Hale claims caused her to begin obsessing over the review, so I am inclined to believe that we are not seeing the actual review, which should exist on Blythe’s blog. She was given the book for free in exchange for her review, and as a blogger, that review should not have been two words followed by a string of thoughts on Goodreads.
    Hale seems to suffering from some sort of mental illness. Perhaps more than one. The point that she fails to understand is that no matter what she does at this point to discredit Blythe, she has already done such extensive damage to her own identity that it will never help.

    • “using an article about the sexual assault of the author”

      She wrote it for The Guardian. While I would have qualms about linking to a personal blog post, that article is completely in the public sphere. And since stalking is a type of obsessive behavior, the other article is relevant.

      And you’re probably right that we don’t see the complete review; what caught my eye was the timeline and the comments that Blythe made. Those were cherry-picked, and show considerably more detail than Hale implied. Also, Blythe’s actual reviews don’t sound nearly as bad Hale would have you think.

      And no, Thought Catalog is not a site for fiction.

  5. I think people are to use to just throwing it all out there thanks to this Facebook generation. Perhaps she’s from the old screen name (Aol, Prodigy, Genie, Compuserve days when no one used their real name because you didn’t throw all your business out there on the net like they do now. People use fake names because they don’t want to have their business or ID or to be stalked, even though this Author still seemed to find her.

    I don’t think she owes an apology to anyone if she didn’t want to use her real name on a review. As long as she said what she thought of the story and wasn’t trolling, then her real name was no ones business and she certainly shouldn’t have been stalked over it.

    • Isn’t there a difference between using a fake name and creating a whole fake identity though? (If that’s even what really happened here).

      • If there is it is the difference between playing with a doll and leaving it in its box. shrug alts can take on a life of their own. you post reviews. you find people want to contact you so you set up a a website, a twitter account then a facebook account. because its expected. People want to reach out to you, maybe. they don’t send a book to people who are not on linkedIn so you set up an account there there . then you realize that the Facebook account breaches the Terms of service and people you know in your position are losing their accounts. Who knows maybe someone displeased by a bad review took a petty revenge. So you do some house dressing and ad a picture picture so Facebook does not get suspicious. after Its not like you are committing a major crime. no one cares if Mr Minute Shoe Repairs is run by someone whose real name Is Mr Brown. John Wayne was not reviled for deciding not to use Marilyn. It is perfectly legal to use an alias if its not to avoid justice.

  6. It seems pretty hypocritical to say that you “never blame the victim” and then go ahead and post an article where the author talks about being sexually assaulted in order to prove your point that she has obsessive tendencies.

    What also blows my mind: The review in question talks about a lack of respect for PTSD. After reading the article about Hale’s rape trial, I think it’s pretty safe to say she knows a little bit about PTSD, don’t you think? Just saying..

  7. Posting in the Guardian creates an awesome media hype. Good or bad. So what Blythe Harris got stalked. Who cares if some people don’t like your book. Anything published publicly is up for ridicule (books AND opinions). The author went a bit far with ‘stalking’. If the “Blythe’s” intention was to burn her credibility as an author then she had it (the stalking) coming! If someone gets offended by your review, and writes a response back, your immediate reaction shouldn’t be to destroy their career (if that was actually the intention here- there are 3 sides to a story). What saddens me is not the lack of fake identity confession, but that she had one in the first place! If you’re afraid of backlash then you shouldn’t be writing reviews. The same goes for writing books. Both were in the wrong. Both showed some kind of lack of professionalism (or humanity!). My parting advice for the author is simply good luck with the next and try not to get too strung up over bad reviews- shit happens. For Blythe and the “career-destroyers” I would suggest writing more reasonably worded reviews and start showing some compassion. If anyone tried to destroy my career, my presence on their door-step would be the least of their concern.

    • For Blythe and the “career-destroyers” I would suggest writing more reasonably worded reviews and start showing some compassion.

      Right, because Dorothy Parker, Truman Capote, Mark Twain, and [insert a whole bunch of vicious reviewers here] weren’t mean at all.

      Blythe didn’t destroy anybody’s career, nor was she trying to. She posted her honest reactions to a book she happened to be reading. Nobody’s got the kind of power to destroy an author.

      If anyone tried to destroy my career, my presence on their doorstep would be the least of their concerns

      Right, and if anyone hunted me down after obsessing over my review, my refusal to explain or change it would be the least of her concerns. You never know who’s prepared to protect their person and property with what.

      • Dorothy Parker, Truman Capote, and Mark Twain’s photos and birthdays were their own

        • Well, no.

          Truman Capote was born Truman Streckfus Persons, and Mark Twain was actually a pen name for Samuel Langhorne Clemens. And don’t get me started on John le Carre, clearly David John Moore Cornwell was an evil person out to be evil.

        • My point (below) is this: So. What. Why are you so offended by this?

          People on the internet can be whoever they want to be. This hasn’t changed since the internet. Hello, dating site pictures. Why does everyone assume they’re talking to an authentic person right off the bat? Self-delusion?

        • Oh right that is how you tell the good guys from the bad guys, Good guys don’t lie about their age.

  8. I absolutely do not understand the problem with Harris creating a whole new persona for the internet. Is it a crime to lie to the internet? A sin? Or, worst of all, a faux pas at the Junior League?

    No. Some people are taking this personally, like the reviewer intentionally misled them and only them by doing so.

    Obviously she had a valid concern and reason for doing so, because IT HAPPENED.

    Grow up.

  9. Yes, stalking is bad and wrong, but if Blythe Harris is a fictional person, *can* she be stalked and have her privacy invaded?

  10. I think your post is completely one-sided, against Hale. There are two sides to every story, then the grey area left between the two. I just read Hale’s blog that detailed her side, and I will give her kudos for at least owning up to her destructive behaviour. I don’t know why some have to see things as so black and white; and, be so malicious and one-sided our posts. I may not have acted as Hale did but I give her kudos for her honesty. You seemed to completely omit the fact that this “reviewer” was a total asshole too.

    • Because if someone is an asshole on the internet, it means you can hunt them down, show up on their doorstep, and confront them. Got it.

      • I didn’t say that, if that’s what you’re implying, Moriah Jovan.
        What I did say is that like everything else, this story isn’t as one-sided as this blogger perhaps makes it out to be.
        I can’t control what you take from what I write, but if that’s what you think, then thanks for proving my point.

    • No, there aren’t two sides to every story.

      If I show up at your house because I don’t like what you have to say, where’s the other side of that story?

      Because, when you strip the self-justifications, that’s what Hale did.

      • You’re right, there aren’t two sides to every story. There are a multitude.
        However, I don’t condone Hale’s actions. They were at best, unprofessional, and at worst, out-of-control.

  11. Actually what Kathleen Hale did i would define it as investigation, not a stalking. There wasn’t any threatening. If i was in Kathleen’s position, i would have given Blythe a good military disciplining. If what Kathleen did is called stalking, then what Blythe did is stalking too, stalking every person that left positive review. If one doesn’t have guts to face consequences from writing “honest” reviews using real identity, then one shouldn’t be allowed to be a reviewer. When you say something, then you got to own it. When you say “f***” words to somebody, then you should expect that somebody is going to punch you. If you cannot eat a punch, then do not say “f***” words.

    • Right. Cause a good military disciplining is not threatening at all. And I guess you just used your real name? Cause if you have nothing to be afraid of you should publish your real name and address before you leave your opinion as a comment. You clearly have no right to comment pseudonomalously

      • Would Kiril Andov suffice? You see, I’m not afraid. You want my address? I’ll give it to you. You gonna stalk me? You better bring big boys pants.

    • I love your “eat a punch” comment, lol!
      J’agree with all you said too.
      ????

    • We’ve no proof that Blythe ‘stalked’ people who left positive reviews. And besides, reviews are not for authors, they’re for other readers. There should be no ‘consequences’ at all, unless what she writes is defamatory in some way. Hale’s publishers gave Blythe a book to review – in doing so, they took the chance that it might not be to her taste and gave her the right to say so. If Hale or her publishers want to control what people say, then they should be paying for advertising.

  12. As scary as it is that an author would try to do this to someone leaving a bad review is the amount of people that think it ok behavior or at least justifiable. If you are going to sell you work expect at least some people aren’t going to like it. Digging into someones life, creeping around their property, examining the contents in their car then calling them is really creepy behavior if not stalkerish. It makes sure I don’t want to touch her work with a ten foot pool.

    As for the reviewer from what I’ve seen there isn’t any screencaps or links to prove she was trolling this author. There is no confirmation about all the “lies” she told about her identity. All there is Hale’s word, someone that is not unbiased in the matter. The review is fuck that which would mean the book not the author. Not classy but not an attack on the author. No matter what author’s tend to think there is a difference between them and there work.

  13. If Hale had ignored Harris and one day, she showed up on Hale’s doorstep, what conversation are we having right now? Hale is so far out of line here, there’s no defending it. I’m amazed there are people directly attributing behavior to Harris that came from Hale with zero corroboration, justifying Hale’s actions with “there are two sides to the story.” No, there’s only been one, Hale’s, and her’s was so disturbing that, frankly, I don’t even care what the “other side” is. What she did here, in her own words, is completely unacceptable and can’t be condoned in the slightest. Don’t even get me started on the false identity, persona, catfishing nonsense. You’d think people involved in literature would have more sense of the history of their own profession. Because, Lord knows, authors using pseudonyms, false identities and manufactured personas hasn’t been going on since Homer or anything.

    • Well put, I’m appalled at all justification for Hale, too. If everything single thing Hale accused Harris of doing was true, if Harris is a big meanie, Hale is still 100% in the wrong. So far, the further I research, Harris wasn’t the one to initiate contact, it was Hale. BTW, Harris wasn’t the only one who didn’t like the book….

  14. “Fuck this” is not a review. It’s heckling.

    Hale behaved atrociously. Blythe thought trashing someone’s work from the safety of her keyboard was just peachy. Surprise, freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences. Maybe think a little before spewing vitriol intended to damage an author personally and financially?

    http://www.parentwin.com/2014/10/how-to-handle-mean-baseless-reviews.html

    • “spewing vitriol intended to damage an author personally and financially”

      Do you have any evidence to back up your claim as to the reviewer’s intentions, or are you simply under the mistaken belief that you are a mind reader?

      • Got any evidence it wasn’t? I’m at least crediting her with malicious intent, rather than being an internet toddler smearing her feces on the wall without understanding what she was doing. Do you want to go with “malicious intent” or “too dumb to be allowed on the internet”?

    • If I’d tried to read a book I’d initially found appealing, then kept hitting one roadblock or another that made it unenjoyable to me, I’d say “Fuck this” and give up finishing too. I’d keep the profanity to myself; Harris didn’t, but so what? She starts off saying positive things in her live account of reading the book, then as she encountered things which bothered her, listed those, and as discussion developed below, went into more depth. She attacked no one, least of all the author, in the review section. The most aggressive thing she said to anyone was, “Is that productive enough of a conversation for you?”

      If she had attacked Hale the person, Hale would have quoted her words. Hale also provided no evidence of Harris and her friends stalking other reviews or harassing her on Twitter as alleged. In a matter where all of Harris’ alleged bad behavior manifested itself digitally and in public, if Hale can’t provide direct quotes, or links to find the material, or screenshots, I have to question whether it really happened as described.

      If Harris were out to ruin Hale, why did she never post her thoughts about the book on her own blog devoted to reviews in order to get more search engine visibility?

      Without more evidence of intent, the only person here I’d suspect of trying to ruin someone’s reputation is Hale. And the only one who may have done any significant damage to Hale’s marketability is Hale herself.

    • I read your linked post and I’d argue that even an idiot yelling “you suck” at a show doesn’t need the performer to then sit at home and obsess, to start following the heckler around all social media, to perform a background check, to call to their work, to rent a car to investigate where they live and look in their vehicle, and then do public shaming in a wordy piece in a major publication, and this all that Hale admits to doing. It would be crazy & wrong for anyone, whether an author, an athlete (who get heckled ruthlessly) or any performer to do this.

    • Freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences–unless you are as well connected as Hale is, then it may take a while for your the consequences of your criminal actions to reach you.

      And if in your world heckling–which by definition is directed at the performer/orator, while reviews are directed at other readers not the authors of the books–warrants stalking…

      Well, you are free to express your belief, but will not be free of the consequences either.

      • “Well, you are free to express your belief, but will not be free of the consequences either.”

        Huh. Maybe that’s why I’m the only commenter in this thread with a real name and a recognizable photo. I don’t really have an issue taking public responsibility for my words.

    • I’m late to the party, having just read with more than a little incredulity the mass of articles on Hale’s original piece that has the internet all aflutter. I’ve read your comment twice… and once more just now, and I want to make sure that I understand your point. Because, whaaaaaaa?

      More articulately: When you state that “freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences”, do you mean that the consequences for saying something negative about someone’s book, which was put out for public consumption, and – presumably opinion (that’s the way *other* authors do it, but they don’t stalk folk, so maybe Hale is different), that the appropriate consequence for that is an illegal act of harassment?

      To another point you made, about Blythe’s intent being to damage the author personally and financially… just, no. First, Blythe’s comments were never directed toward the author; they were directed toward the book. It shouldn’t need to be said, but those two things are different. Reviews are for other readers, and having a negative opinion – however strongly worded – isn’t attacking anyone, it’s disliking the art that they put out for public consumption.

      Finally, reading Hale’s account, then looking at the actual comments in evidence, it seems that Hale rearranged, truncated, and cherry-picked quotes from Blythe to back up her story. The evidence of Blythe bullying comes from stopthegrbullies.com (a website used by many self-published authors to harass, post the personal information of reviewers who post negative reviews – see stopthegrbullies.net).

      Additional claims from Hale, like, “That same day, Blythe began tweeting in tandem with me, ridiculing everything I said”, had no evidence whatsoever to back them up, and I’m not really going to take the word of a self-proclaimed (and seemingly proud of it) stalker.

      But really, if absolutely everything Hale said about Blythe is true (and there’s evidence that she fabricated a good deal of it: http://dearauthor.com/features/essays/on-the-importance-of-pseudonymous-activity/ ), there is nothing to justify the criminal acts committed by Hale. Nothing.

      And your statement? “Surprise, freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences. Maybe think a little before spewing vitriol intended to damage an author personally and financially?”

      Perhaps take that logic a little further, employ an extreme metaphor, and realize that your rationale is not so distantly related to some truly nasty thinking in our culture… “She was asking for it.” “It’s what she deserved.” “She got what was coming to her.” And maybe you should think before engaging in victim-blaming.

      • Hale’s actions were appalling, wrong, reprehensible, dangerous, disturbing, unbalanced, etc. Full stop.

        As part of the story and as part of the ongoing conversation about the story, this “Blythe Harris” person’s actions are all too familiar with authors, serious reviewers and readers, and her/his style of reviewing has grown old. That kind of rhetoric, the ridiculous, moronic, childish and just plain nasty targeting of authors based on anything but the actual work is destroying what little is left of the author/reviewer/reader online community.

        But, hey, it’s the internet, and the nasty, the ugly, the mean, the dirty, the lowest of the low are what thrive and proliferate. The internet is the home of the losers who can’t make it in the real world, who have no real friends, whose behavior is so disgusting and low class no one in real life wants anything to do with them.

        Hale and Harris are indicative of this pathetic fake internet world, and, yeah, when you’re dealing with crazy losers, you get what you get.

        Don’t like it? Turn off your freaking computer and get outside and start looking people in the eye, meeting them where they’re at and broadening your horizons.

        So sick of the incessant, stupid, childish meangirl drama stirred up over and over again by the same dozen or so bitter bitches who frequent the same half dozen or so stupid “review” websites. You all deserve each other and you all can wallow in the mess you’ve made. Meh. So over you filthy mouthed shrews. No wonder most of you are divorced, lonely old women.

  15. I am in complete agreement with this article.

    Recently, I was very shaken and rattled to find a malicious commenter on one of my journals had “stalked” me to the one I used to try and publicise my soon-to-be-published writings. I say “stalked” because really, I have grave doubts that WordPress could have made it any easier for the “stalker” to find out which other journals were my writings. And I will say this up front. What the “stalker” said to me in comment, you would not tolerate a person saying it to you in person. At the very minimum, you could get out your mobile ‘phone and start contacting the police.

    Hale’s behaviour is not acceptable. It is one thing to write about a review and say “I think this person is very wrong and here is why”. It is another entirely to write things about where they go, what they do, and about going to places where you have tracked them to. Hale’s behaviour is suggestive of needing therapy, not needing defending.

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14 Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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  3. Discussion | Please be safe, my fellow bloggers | The Nerdy Journalist
  4. When An Author Stalks You… |
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  6. Hale vs Harris, and the Breach of Online Ethics | Alex Hurst
  7. Perspective, you are doing it wrong. | Her Hands, My Hands
  8. The Issue Of Hale - Reverie Rhapsody
  9. An author stalks a reviewer, and people are commending this? | Ramen Noodle Book Reviews
  10. A response to the support received by Kathleen Hale after she stalked a book blogger – Book Thingo
  11. When to Engage Reviewers: NEVER | ink & chocolate
  12. Writing negative reviews | Genrify
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  14. Reviewing and Rating: Books and TV | Laura Kilmartin - Books & Blog

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