Sunday, November 3, 2013

Any other good blogs out there?

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There are so many great blogs out there and I am just finding Bloglovin' which will help me stay up to date with great books and great bloggers! Make sure to check it out!

Phoenix (Black City #2) by Elizabeth Richards

Kindle Edition, 273 pages
Published June 4th 2013 by Putnam Juvenile 
 Ash and Natalie are just starting to build a life together when things in the United Sentry States go from bad to worse. Ash and Natalie find themselves at the center of turmoil when dictator Purian Rose threatens Natalie’s life unless Ash votes in favor of Rose’s Law—a law that will send Darklings and other dissenters to a deadly concentration camp known as the Tenth.

When Ash can’t bring himself to trade Natalie’s life for those of millions of Darklings, her fate is sealed. Enter Elijah Theroux, the handsome Bastet boy Natalie once saved from her mother’s labs, where he’d been experimented on and tortured. It was his venom the Sentry used to create the lethal Golden Haze, the heart of the government conspiracy that led to Black City’s uprising and Ash’s rebirth as the Phoenix, the face of the rebellion. Elijah is back and Ash doesn’t like him; it’s clear he’s taken with Natalie, and Ash fears she may have feelings for him as well.

But Elijah also may have the answer to taking down Purian Rose for good—a powerful weapon called the Ora. Ash, Natalie and Elijah just have to escape Black City undetected to find it. But fleeing the city and finding this weapon (if it even exists) are easier said than done, and the quest could tear Ash and Natalie apart, even pushing them into the arms of others.

This enthralling sequel to Black City is just as absorbing, delicious and steamy as the first book, leaving readers hungry for the series conclusion.
I told you it would be up soon :) Both books were actually finished within 4 days of each other... but again, I had to teach so that took away precious reading time!! Haha!
You know how sometimes the sequel to a great book was such a let down? No title please, no titles! Believe me when I say that this one will not leave you disappointed. Though it may leave you a little (no A LOT) antsy for the next, and final, book! And the Cliffhanger of the Year Award goes to....

for her amazing work in Phoenix (Black City #2)
Seriously,  that is the only warning I will give you so don't say I didn't warn you. Just when you think you have it almost figured out, Richards has an amazing way of throwing all that you know up in the air and making you rethink it all. The fact that she does that and keeps readers on their toes is what draws me into her story even more. I have said it before, but there are certain genres that are starting to have books that all sound the same and (as I said in my review of Black City) this series is such a breath of fresh air. This series is one that has something for everyone because of the dynamic story that is told throughout each page. It has drama for all, a romance for the girls, major fighting and death for the guys and everything else you could ask for.
I just saw where someone tweeted that if you are missing Divergent, then this is the series you need to read next and I couldn't agree anymore!  
Make sure to visit Elizabeth here for updates on the final book, contests and much more! By the way... I entered her  "Show Me Your Pumpkins" contest to win a signed copy of Phoenix and swag and guess what?! I WON!!! Here is the winning pumpkin (inspired by Divergent) along with my kids pumpkins they carved!
I am so excited :) Maybe she will accidently slip in a copy of Wings (Black City #3) for me! Hey... a girl can dream, right?! 
Happy reading all! 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Black City (Black City #1) by Elizabeth Richards

Hardcover, 374 pages
Published November 13th 2012 by G.P. Putnam's Sons BYR 
A dark and tender post-apocalyptic love story set in the aftermath of a bloody war.

In a city where humans and
Darklings are now separated by a high wall and tensions between the two races still simmer after a terrible war, sixteen-year-old Ash Fisher, a half-blood Darkling, and Natalie Buchanan, a human and the daughter of the Emissary, meet and do the unthinkable—they fall in love. Bonded by a mysterious connection that causes Ash’s long-dormant heart to beat, Ash and Natalie first deny and then struggle to fight their forbidden feelings for each other, knowing if they’re caught, they’ll be executed—but their feelings are too strong.

When Ash and Natalie then find themselves at the center of a deadly conspiracy that threatens to pull the humans and Darklings back into war, they must make hard choices that could result in both their deaths.
I love nothing more than getting a book recommendation from my students.  And I really mean that! They find some of the greatest books that I miss out on sometimes (despite my vast reading selection). Black City is by far one of the best recommendations of books that I have gotten in a very long time! I must say though, that when Jade (my amazing student) told me about it I was a little hesitant. Vampires and I have not gotten along for a while. But I decided to give it a chance and a mere 12 hours later... I was done with the book. It would have been sooner but I had to do my pesky job and teach kiddos! Haha!

This book is not your typical vampire story in any way, shape, or form. The amazing wold that Elizabeth Richards has built in the dystopian society is unlike anything I have ever experienced and its unique writing was a breath of fresh air to my reading addiction. Natalie and Ash have obstacles to jump over, under and through but the biggest one is each other. The dynamics between the two are so real and well written that you can picture them in your head very easily. This is by far one of my top reads of this year and I am just so sorry that I didn't find it sooner. Thank goodness for my amazing students!! 

Happy reading!

PS: I have to admit that I didn't take the time to write this review before getting Phoenix (Black City #2) on my Kindle that night and finishing it a few hours later! So look for that review very soon... because you know I am already done with it now too :)

Monday, October 21, 2013

Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil

Hardcover, 320 pages
Published August 1st 2013 by Peachtree Publishers

Sam is a geek movie-buff with a ragtag group of loser friends who have been taking abuse from the popular kids for years. But when the super-cool Camilla moves to town, she surprises everyone by choosing to spend time with Sam's group. Suddenly they go from geek to chic, and find that not everything boils down to us and them. With their social lives in flux, Sam and Camilla spend more and more time together. They become the best of friends, and Sam finds that he's happier and more comfortable in his own skin than ever before. But eventually Sam must admit to himself that he's fallen in love. If he confesses his true feelings to Camilla, will everything change again?

  I think we have all had those moments when someone joins our group of friends and we wonder "What the heck are you doing?". Not because we are mean, but because we really are confused as to why this person who we think would never associate with us is suddenly taking an interest in us. Well Sam can relate to us in that aspect. Camilla has moved to Australia and into Sam's life when he and his friends are perfectly fine with being the geeks they are. I loved the characters in this book and don't really know if I could pick a favorite because they were all written so well. 

So many times I read books that are written about teenagers where the characters don't seem real. The characters in this book are teenagers- dialogue, actions, and quirks! Sam has a quirky sense of humor which I just love and couldn't get enough of. Being a teenager is the same no matter which continent you are on and that proves true with this novel. I love that it is evident in this novel that teenagers everywhere deal with the same issues! 

Enter to win a copy of Life in Outer Space here!!

Happy reading!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy

Hardcover, 286 pages
Published January 1st 2011 by Arthur A. Levine Books 
In the tradition of SHABANU, DAUGHTER OF THE WIND and THE BREADWINNER, a beautiful debut about a daughter of Afghanistan discovering new friends and opportunities after the defeat of the Taliban.

Zulaikha hopes. She hopes for peace, now that the Taliban have been driven from Afghanistan; a good relationship with her hard stepmother; and one day even to go to school, or to have her cleft palate fixed. Zulaikha knows all will be provided for her--"Inshallah," God willing.

Then she meets Meena, who offers to teach her the Afghan poetry she taught her late mother. And the Americans come to her village, promising not just new opportunities and dangers, but surgery to fix her face. These changes could mean a whole new life for Zulaikha--but can she dare to hope they'll come true?

I must admit that this book has been on my shelf for a while and I haven’t read it. Why? I have no good excuse for you…especially now that I have read it! After reading Torn by David Massey, I knew that this book must be my next. This is a book that will stay with me for a long time not only because of the powerful story that was written, but because of the knowledge that I gained about the Afghan culture and people through Trent Reedy’s words.

Zulaikha was born with a cleft lip and when she is spotted by the American soldiers who come into her village, they make every effort to help her fix her lip. This is only the surface level of the story. Zulaikha’s life is full of many trials and tribulations that impact her life that we (as privileged Americans) will never comprehend. I loved that my eyes were opened to a whole other culture and way of life. As I am cleaning my house now, I will not complain about what little I have to do in comparison to the young women like Zulaikha. Every emotion from rage to heartbreak was brought out of me through this novel. At one point, I was scared that I was going to completely melt down in front of my students as we were all reading. Can you imagine those parent phone calls? “My son told me you blubbered about a character in a book. Are you sure you’re okay?!” Haha!!

This summer I read a book called The Butterfly Mosque: A Young American Woman's Journey to Love and Islam which had a profound impact on me and opened my eyes to other cultures that are often labeled as “terroristic” because of something that people from their nation choose to do. I loved in the “Author’s Notes” Reedy pointed out how he had a view of the people from Afghanistan as being the evil monsters who terrorized and attacked our nation. However, when he went to the villages to help these people, he realized that there was a difference in the “dangerous groups like the Taliban and the typical, peace-loving Afghan people” (p. 253). It is through books like this and the many others that are out there that over privileged American’s like me can learn to distinguish between the two as well.

Happy reading….

Monday, October 7, 2013

Halloween picture books for your little monster

I don't know about you, but it is hard to believe that Halloween is right around the corner! Jaxon (my 4 year old) wants to be a dragon and I have decided to make the costume... what was I thinking?! And I have no clue what Kylie (my 8 year old) will wind up being. She is constantly changing her mind. At least we have some cute reads from Candlewick Press to tide us over and give us ideas! 

Ghost in the House
by Ammi-Joan Paquette
Hardcover, 32 pages
Published July 9th 2013 by Candlewick Press 
 There’s a ghost in the house, In the creepy haunted house, On this dark spooky night all alone.
When a little ghost goes slip-sliding down the hallway, he suddenly hears...a groan! Turns out it’s only a friendly mummy, who shuffles along with the ghost, until they encounter...a monster! As the cautious explorers continue, they find a surprise at every turn — and add another adorably ghoulish friend to the count. But you’ll never guess who is the scariest creature in the house!
 Cute book that could be used to teach sequencing and the use of repetition.  It is also a great book for counting seeing as Ghost meets more friends along the way!!

Filbert, the Good Little Fiend
by Hiawyn Oram, Jimmy Liao

Hardcover, 32 pages
Published July 9th 2013 by Candlewick Press 
Daddy and Mommy Fiend want their little Filbert to be gruesome and ghastly, but he won’t trample or terrify, roar or holler. He’d much rather help an old lady with her bags or go bird-watching. What are they to do with him? When Filbert starts school, he quickly learns that good behavior isn’t tolerated in class, and he is banished outside until he can act like a proper little fiend. Suddenly a little angel appears, flying fast and furious until...bump! Could this naughty Angel-School dropout be just the friend Filbert needs? Could they find a way together to make everyone accept them as they are?
Sometimes people (and monsters) just don't understand that it is okay to be different. In this adorable book, Filbert finds an unexpected pal who helps him see that he is just fine the way he is and helps him show everyone else that too!

Vampire Baby
by Kelly Bennett

Hardcover, 32 pages
Published July 9th 2013 by Candlewick Press 
When Tootie gets her first teeth, it’s clear to her big brother that she’s no ordinary baby. But how to convince Mom and Dad?

It happens overnight: little sister Tootie goes from cuddly, ga-ga-googoo, I-want-my-ba-ba baby...vampire baby. Now she’s sinking her pointy fangs into everything — furniture, toys, and especially her big brother ("Youch, Tootie! No bite!" ). Mom insists that it’s just a phase, but Tootie’s brother knows better. Just look at her hairline! Or the fact that all her favorite foods are bloodred! With perfect comic timing, Kelly Bennett and Paul Meisel give a fresh slant to the new-baby story, proving that even monstrous little arrivals have a funny way of staking their siblings’ affections.
  I have to say that I have often thought my siblings were strange, but never pegged them for vampire babies! Tootie, however, definitely fits the bill. This cute story of one sibling trying to get used to the new baby and all her oddities is a must have for all parents with new babies coming in. The lesson learned is... well, you will just have to read it! 

Happy reading all!!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Torn by David Massey

Hardcover, 288 pages

Published July 30th 2013 by Chicken House (first published August 2nd 2012)


Witnesses to a mystery on the battlefield, a British medic and an American Navy SEAL confront Afghanistan's fog of war.
In war-torn Afghanistan, a girl walks right into a hail of bullets: Elinor watches it with her own eyes. The young British army medic risks the line of fire to rescue her, only to realize the girl is gone.
To find the missing, mysterious child, Elinor enlists the help of an American Navy SEAL. But in all the confusion, with coalition troops fighting every day to maintain a fragile peace, does Ben have something to hide?
Elinor came to Afghanistan with the hope of changing hearts and minds: What she's about to discover will make her question everything she ever believed about love and war.

A war thriller. A cross-cultural love story with an undercurrent of magic realism. A powerful debut set in modern-day, battle-scarred Afghanistan. This is TORN.

War is something that (sadly enough) every generation is now familiar with.  As I look at my children (the ones in my house and the ones in my classroom), I often wonder how it will impact them and if they will ever understand the impact of those who are fighting for our freedoms. Some of them already get it. They have parents or siblings or other family and friends who have fought in another country and even some who have lost loved ones in a war of some kind. Literature, I have found, is the easiest way to allow them some kind of understanding of war in the past and now with the help of David Massey, a new perspective can be found through the eyes of Elinor.

I absolutely fell in love with this book. The war in Afghanistan is one that is confusing for many and hits close to home for many more. As I grow older, I find that more and more people I know are enlisting (people from my high school and now my students) and I am watching the news trying to understand what is going on. There are a slow trickle of books available to students and everyone else to read that give some insight through fictitious characters as to what the war is like. I have even toyed around with the idea of a book about this very topic and began Torn as a research piece to see the perspective of this author. I certainly gained more than that.

This novel is beautifully written, action packed and opens your eyes to a situation in which we often forget about. The children who are impacted most during these wars. I am lucky enough to have the Scholastic Bookfair at school right now and this book is on it, so I am sending all of my kiddos to it and telling them they won’t regret it. Trent Reedy’s Words in the Dust is up next for me. Once I get on a kick… it is hard to get away from it!

Visit David Massey here and see more about him and his works!!

Happy reading!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Origin by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Paperback, 366 pages
Published August 27th 2013 by Entangled Publishing

Daemon will do anything to get Katy back.

After the successful but disastrous raid on Mount Weather, he’s facing the impossible. Katy is gone. Taken. Everything becomes about finding her. Taking out anyone who stands in his way? Done. Burning down the whole world to save her? Gladly. Exposing his alien race to the world? With pleasure.

All Katy can do is survive.

Surrounded by enemies, the only way she can come out of this is to adapt. After all, there are sides of Daedalus that don’t seem entirely crazy, but the group’s goals are frightening and the truths they speak even more disturbing. Who are the real bad guys? Daedalus? Mankind? Or the Luxen?

Together, they can face anything.

But the most dangerous foe has been there all along, and when the truths are exposed and the lies come crumbling down, which side will Daemon and Katy be standing on?

And will they even be together?

I have to thank my friend Julie for introducing me to these books. I read the first four in a weekend and was DYING for this one to come out! (I know... it came out a while back and I just haven't had time to review... blah, blah, blah;)). Aliens and other life forms are not books that I would normally go after, but as I tell my students- sometimes we need to branch out just a little and we will be surprised at what we find. This is definitely a great find!

This is the fourth book in the series and it is action packed! I was constantly turning the pages, ignoring my children and reading at every chance I got (yup... even at red lights). It was one of those books that as the end was drawing closer, I was dreading it because I didn't want it to end. Katy and Daemon definitely have their relationship tested and have to really evaluate their love for each other and what they are willing to do to save themselves and the one they love.

This is by far one of my favorite YA Paranormal series and I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone! Go read it.. you will love it!

Happy reading everyone!!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Smash: Trial by Fire Blog Tour Kickoff!

Hardcover, 160 pages
Expected publication: September 10th 2013 by Candlewick Press

I am so lucky to be the start of the blog tour for the book Smash Trial by Fire by Chris A. Bolton and Kylie Bolton. As a middle school teacher, I have lots of students who love graphic novels and lets face it... adults do too! In this adventure packed graphic novel, Andrew can only dream of fulfilling his dream as the Defender's sidekick and then one day his dream come true... sort of. The art work, plot and pure fun of this novel will keep you turning the page to see what happens and will definitely leave you wanting for more at the end! I can't wait to see the next novel!

Since this is the start of the blog tour for the book, I asked if we could hear more about how this graphic novel came to be. As a teacher, this is definitely something I want to share with my students and as a reader, I just want to know! So now, I will turn it over to Chris A. Bolton to let us all know "How A Webcomic Becomes A Book"!

To start with, it's important to note that we'd always wanted Smash to be a book. My younger brother, Kyle, and I had a stroke of inspiration to create the sort of all-ages comic we would have loved when we were kids. That was the birth of Smash, our series about a 10-year-old boy who unexpectedly gains the powers of his superhero idol -- along with his villains. It took many years to develop the idea, and we submitted it to numerous comic publishers, who all politely rejected it, mainly on the grounds that "kids' comics don't sell."

A few years can make a big difference, however. The success of kids' graphic novels like Bone, Amulet, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid (a fellow webcomic-to-book convert) showed the book publishing industry that there is a big audience for kids' comics. We'd started publishing Smash as a free online webcomic to find a readership, but we never stopped wanting to see it as a book. Eventually, we were fortunate enough to interest the world's greatest literary agent, Bernadette Baker-Baughman, who managed to entice Candlewick Press, home of Kate DiCamillo, Waldo, Judy Moody, and other superstars of children's books.

And now, PRESTO! We're a book! Fast and easy, end of story. Good night!

Whoa, hang on a minute! Actually, it wasn't that easy. Not even close.

I had worked for the online bookseller for many years, so I was familiar with most of the promotional aspects of the book industry. I also wrote Powell's daily book news blog posts, so I was aware of the long gap between the announcement of a book sale and the actual arrival of the finished book in stores.

My family, however, had no idea about any of that. In the three years since Kyle and I signed our book contract with Candlewick, I was often met with concerned looks and questions like, "Is the book still happening?"

We signed the contract in August, 2010. A lot of people we knew expected to see the book hit stores that fall. I would chuckle and tell them publishing doesn't move that quickly.

They replied, "But the comic is already done, so what's the hold-up?"

To start with, our terrific editor at Candlewick, Mary Lee Donovan, had lots of notes for us, as any good editor should. On our website, we'd posted the entire first season of our webcomic, all 120 or so pages, with only ourselves and our small-but-dedicated readership for editorial input. Sometimes we bumped up against deadlines and had to take shortcuts, or rush parts of the story or art. I'd finished plotting the last four episodes of season one (at that time, we published ten-page "episodes" every two weeks) when Kyle informed me he was worn out by the constant grind (along with his nine-to-five day job), and how quickly could we wrap this season up? I condensed 40 pages into 20, and in doing so, had to throw away a lot of story beats I really liked.

For the Candlewick book, I was eager to put many of those missing parts back and expand on scenes I felt we'd rushed or that hadn't worked out the way I'd hoped. I also wanted to add some new plot beats and scenes that made sense to me on reflection. Kyle's artwork had improved in leaps and bounds since we'd started posting the webcomic, so he was particularly eager to redraw various panels, even entire pages.

Basically, the webcomic ended up being just a rough draft. After talking with Mary Lee, who shared her own feedback and ideas for changes -- along with her palpable enthusiasm for all the many parts she loved and didn't want us to touch -- Kyle and I decided to add 30 brand-new pages and revise so much of the rest that Kyle ended up redrawing more than 50% of the book.

So much for fall 2011 -- we had a lot of work to do! And, although some of it was difficult, it all feels worth it.

We went back and forth on changes and suggestions. Kyle doesn't like drawing thumbnails, so he put together rough sketches of new pages and panels. Sometimes Mary Lee and our book designer, Nathan Pyritz, weren't sure what they were looking at; a few panels had to be redone entirely to make the idea clearer for the reader. Many other times, we were all delighted by the fixes and how the storytelling was improving in every way.

This process continued until September 2011, when Kyle was given the thumbs-up to start drawing the finished pages.

Kyle wasn't the only one who had work to do. Although there were no significant changes to the plot, there were scenes and moments I wanted to expand on, not to mention those 30 new pages that had to be created from scratch.

It's important to note that none of this was a drag. Mary Lee prefers handwritten notes to email, so she sent each of us a print-out of the comic with her notes in the margins. We couldn't have been more excited to receive that bulging package!

When I opened my copy and sat on the couch to read, I paused for a deep breath, expecting at least some of the notes to sting. Not at all. Instead, I was thrilled to find a ton of useful critiques and suggestions, most of which had never even occurred to me.

While writing the scripts for the webcomic, I had sometimes packed each page a little too full, so that Kyle was trying to cram ten panels into a single page. (Nowadays, I wouldn't want him to draw more than eight, although six is the norm.) I also over-wrote dialogue balloons, sometimes to compensate for a detail that wasn't clear in the artwork, and other times just because... well, I couldn't leave a panel BLANK! C'mon, there had to be WORDS there! Even if the words were flavorless and served no useful purpose, readers can't be trusted to just look at a PICTURE and figure out what's happening, even with an artist as skilled as Kyle! I soon learned the folly of that thinking.

It took Mary Lee's notes to help Kyle fully appreciate the need for establishing shots to orient the reader with their surroundings before cutting into the action. Frankly, Kyle never liked drawing backgrounds; he wanted to jump right to the "good stuff." Now he was finding out why it's important to take the time to set the scene for the reader, clearly and skillfully. In graphic storytelling, setting becomes as much a character as your hero or villains.

With new pages added, a few from the webcomic that were cut entirely, and the addition of a 12-page prelude -- which we'd planned to post online between seasons one and two, until Bernadette, our ever-brilliant agent, mentioned it would be a nice addition to the book -- the total page count ballooned to 160.

Of those 160, Kyle had to revise, redraw, or draw from scratch about 110 pages. We were being ridiculously optimistic when we told Candlewick he'd have that done by December, 2011.

When that deadline passed with Kyle still plugging away, we aimed for the following February. Candlewick had initially planned to publish the book in spring 2013, but now that was clearly an impossible dream.

It's important to note that Candlewick only publishes in fall and spring. So, if we missed a window of time, it wouldn't set us back just a few weeks, but possibly months. When February blew past and Kyle was still working feverishly on the pages (while also holding down a full-time day job), the publication date had to be postponed to fall 2013.

It was around this time that our friends and family began wondering out loud if there would ever really be a book. I reassured them the best I could, but even Kyle was starting to worry that we might not make it. And me? I just clung to blind faith.

By January 2012, we'd suspended of Season 2 of the webcomic. On reflection, it wasn't the best idea to post two comics per week while Kyle was simultaneously working on the book (and still holding down his full-time job). The deadlines started to clash. We agreed the book should take first priority, especially since we'd always hoped for Smash to be a book, first and foremost.

If nothing else, working on the first book taught us the value of getting it right the first time. We were no longer even comfortable having Season One online, knowing how much had already been improved for the book. It felt an awful lot like having your mom post your baby pictures online for all to see. So we took the whole comic offline and determined that, going forward, Smash would only be a traditional book series.

Kyle finished the revisions in May of 2012. We went through a few more rounds of editorial changes and suggestions, all of them for the better. By July, we were finally ready to color the book, which was the last stage of the process from our end.

However, there was a problem. The initial colored files we had used for the webcomic were too small for publication. We tried stretching the files, but that didn't work. It soon became painfully clear that all 160 pages of the book would have to be colored entirely from scratch. For our hardworking colorists, Christina Mackin and Sarah Barrie Fenton, that took a few more months.

The final colors were completed in January 2013. We sent the last pages to Mary Lee and Nathan, feeling a sense of pure relief. We'd had a lingering fear they would inform us, politely but firmly, that these pages didn't pass muster and Candlewick was canceling the book. When Mary Lee responded to the finished work with jubilation, Kyle and I felt like... well, a lot like this:

Smash: Trial by Fire will finally be published on September 10, 2013. As I write these words, we've given finished, full-color hardcover copies to our friends and family. They've all been delighted and agreed it was worth the wait.

Kyle and I couldn't be more thrilled to see what had once been a vague idea and some rough sketches turned into a real, live book! It's been an amazing ride, and we're eternally grateful to Mary Lee, Nathan, Bernadette, and everyone else who supported us while we worked to bring our dream to vivid life.

Amazing, huh?! Thanks so much Chris for taking the time to stop by today and give us more insight into your thought process and the writing process! There are more stops along the tour so make sure to check them out!

Happy reading!

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