Book Review: A Prom to Remember by Sandy Hall

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Title: A Prom to Remember
Author: Sandy Hall
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Publication Date: April 24, 2018
Genre: General Fiction, Young Adult

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // iBooks 
Amazon // Indiebound

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A Prom to Remember
Sandy Hall
Swoon Reads, April 2018
ISBN 978-1-250-11914-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Cora: Dating Perfect Boyfriend Jamie. Has NO IDEA how to break up with him…

Paisley: Anti-prom. Somehow nominated her anxiety-ridden best friend for prom king…

Henry: Hates social situations. Invited to prom by the most popular girl in school. SEND HELP!

Otis: Half of one of the cutest couples in his class. Not quite ready for a post-prom hotel room…

Lizzie: Shy. Excited to go to prom. With a boy. Whose name she doesn’t know.

Cameron: Loner. Over high school. Just wants to meet the mysterious girl who’s been leaving him notes…

Jacinta: Unnamed Nerd Girl #3. Determined to become the star of her own life, starting with prom…

Back in the very long ago day, prom wasn’t a big thing in my life. In my junior year, I was dating an R.O.T.C. cadet from another school and we went to his Ring Dance the same night. I don’t remember what I was doing in my senior year but, for whatever reason, I didn’t go to prom. Still, that particular school dance was a big deal and, judging by the kids I see in their fancy dress having dinner, limos waiting, it still reigns supreme in high school today.

What I haven’t forgotten in all these years is all the angst and excitement and hopes and dreams that go along with prom and A Prom to Remember brought it all back with a look at seven kids and all their expectations. I came to love every one of these teens for one reason or another and would not have minded spending more time with them. This was a really fun read and I turned the last page grinning to beat the band…a good way to end a book, I think 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2018.

About the Author

I’m a teen librarian from New Jersey where I was born and raised. I have a BA in Communication and a Master of Library and Information Science from Rutgers University. When I’m not writing, or teen librarian-ing, I enjoy reading, slot machines, marathoning TV shows, and long scrolls through Tumblr. A LITTLE SOMETHING DIFFERENT is my first novel.

Author links:  Website // Twitter // Goodreads

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Book Review: The Baby by Lisa Drakeford

The Baby
Lisa Drakeford
Chicken House, November 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-94027-6
Hardcover

When I opened The Baby, I anticipated a quirky, mystery-comedic-misadventure of baby-sitting gone hilariously wrong.  With a dash of adolescence adoration.  I was grossly mistaken.  Instead, I plunged into a pertinent plot involving important issues.  The depth of this quickly captivating story, seemingly centered on Olivia’s seventeenth birthday celebration, surprised and delighted me.

The look into Olivia and Jonty’s relationship reveals a rarely addressed, but true tribulation.  A hard, honest survey of such a sensitive subject, seen from multiple points of view and various perspectives, proves that even with all of the pieces; a puzzle may not be easily solved. As Olivia better understands Jonty’s world and how it has affected his actions, he learns to analyze and address his issues.

Nicola is sweet and funny.  Also, she is insecure and almost desperately eager to please.  She makes a mistake. In a real-life kind of way, she makes the same mistake more than once.  She was not alone in an ethical error, but solely shouldered the consequences.  Initially.  I would be remiss if I did not mention Nicola’s mother here, as I definitely dig a reminder that “mature” adults still have room to grow.

Ben is the bond that brings it all together.  Being a bit accustomed to the prejudiced cold shoulder, he is a pillar for Nicola as she adjusts to her new life in the public eye.  Just as tight with Olivia, he’s even at ease with Alice, her eccentric younger sibling.  Maybe he and Jonty are not mates, but neither are they mortal enemies.  Besides, they are teenagers; generally open-minded and adaptable creatures.

Ms. Drakeford magically meshes tough topics, tenacious teenagers with the pleasantly peculiar to display a beautiful, big picture that is neither black nor white, but grey in The Baby.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2017.

Book Review: Zombie Abbey by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Zombie Abbey
Lauren Baratz-Logsted
Entangled Teen, April 2018
ISBN 978-1-63375-911-4
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

1920, England

And the three teenage Clarke sisters thought what they’d wear to dinner was their biggest problem…

Lady Kate, the entitled eldest.

Lady Grace, lost in the middle and wishing she were braver.

Lady Lizzy, so endlessly sunny, it’s easy to underestimate her.

Then there’s Will Harvey, the proud, to-die-for—and possibly die with!—stable boy; Daniel Murray, the resourceful second footman with a secret; Raymond Allen, the unfortunate-looking young duke; and Fanny Rogers, the unsinkable kitchen maid.

Upstairs! Downstairs! Toss in some farmers and villagers!

None of them ever expected to work together for any reason.

But none of them had ever seen anything like this.

There are zombies and then there are zombies, you know? To put it in TV perspective, you can watch The Walking Dead if you like the serious sort,  Z Nation for pure camp or iZombie if you’re looking for smile-worthy unadulterated fun. Or, hey, go for all three!

Zombie Abbey falls squarely into the fun category although it takes a while to get there. I thought the first half or so was more like an oldfashioned comedy of manners but with a plethora of characters I had to get to know as well as possible. As an historical novel set at an English manor on the cusp of the Roaring Twenties, it reminded me a lot of the Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs stories which are very appealing to me. In fact, I almost expected an Agatha Christie kind of mystery to evolve.

The introduction of the zombie factor had its amusing moments, especially in the stereotypical ability of the British high society to live in denial, unable to fully comprehend the possibility of such a thing upsetting the routine. Each of the many primary characters has a part to play and I most appreciated the three sisters (although Lady Kate is not exactly likeable) and Fanny, the maid with attitude.

Zombie Abbey won’t be for all readers but I enjoyed it, largely because I’m a zombie fan 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2018.

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Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon
Indiebound // Entangled Publishing

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An Excerpt from Zombie Abbey

Dr. Webb was lurching toward the church out of the mist, something terribly off about his halting gait. More specifically, he was lurching toward Mr. Young.

“Are you all right, Dr. Webb?” Mr. Young called, the former joy in his voice replaced now with concern for the other man.

“Merry!” Lady Grace called out a warning. “Don’t go any farther!”

“But can’t you all see?” Mr. Young said, still walking forward. “Poor Dr. Webb is sick.”

Yes, Dr. Webb was sick. His clothing and general appearance were all disheveled. And he smelled bad, too, the duke realized, as a rotting stench made its way to his nostrils, which flared in response. Why, the smell was similar to that which had enveloped the dead valet, his dead valet, yesterday. Perhaps Dr. Webb had acquired the wretched smell while tending to some poor person in the village?

Dr. Webb still lurched, his arms spreading out now as Mr. Young approached.

“Merry, please!” Lady Grace cried. Then she moved to step forward herself, no doubt to try to stop Mr. Young, but Benedict Clarke held her back, catching her with one arm around the waist.

And now Mr. Young was opening his arms wide, too, as though to warmly greet the returning doctor, but when their bodies met and the doctor embraced him, he immediately began to chew on the closest part of Mr. Young’s body that was available to him, which, in this case, happened to be his upper arm.

The duke watched, frozen in horror as no doubt the others were, too, as the doctor chewed through Mr. Young’s jacket and shirt, straight down to the flesh beneath. It might have been almost comical, were it not so downright horrifying.

Among the things you never expect to see in life: one human being attempting to feed on another like an animal.

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About the Author

Lauren Baratz-Logsted is the author of over 30 books for adults (Vertigo), teens (The Twin’s Daughter) and children (The Sisters 8 series which she created with her husband and daughter). She’d love to dress up in period costume from the 1920s but she’d be a lot less excited about meeting zombies. Lauren lives in Danbury, CT, with her husband and daughter and cat, all of whom are writers (well, maybe not the cat).

Author Links:

Website // Twitter // Facebook // Goodreads

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Giveaway
Signed copy

Enter here.

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Book Review: Unraveled by Kate Jarvik Birch

Unraveled
Perfected #3
Kate Jarvik Birch
Entangled Teen, April 2018
ISBN 978-1-63375-913-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Ella isn’t anyone’s pet anymore, but she’s certainly not free.

After exposing the dark secrets about NuPet’s breeding program, forcing them to repeal the law that allowed genetically modified girls to be kept as pets, she thought girls like her would finally be free. She never dreamed that it would backfire. NuPet may have convinced the public of their intentions to assimilate pets back into society, but Ella knows it’s a lie.

They aren’t planning mass rehabilitation…they’re planning a mass extermination.

Now, with the help of a small group of rebels, Ella and Penn, the boy she’d give up her life for, set out to bring down NuPet for good. But when her group gets implicated in a string of bombings, no one is safe. If she can’t untangle the web of blackmail and lies that extends far beyond NuPet’s reach, she won’t just lose her chance at freedom, she’ll lose everyone she loves.

The author of the Perfected trilogy, Kate Jarvik Birch, created a world and story in which girls are raised to be pets, a glorified form of slavery, and I was enthralled by the first two books, especially with the innovative ideas Ms. Birch had. This third and final entry is just as creative and I was fascinated with the twist on our own animal rights activists’ dramatic, sometimes deadly, attacks on the facilities where animals are held. In those circumstances, the animals are often freed in order to save them from experimentation and imprisonment; in Unraveled, it’s the “animals”, the genetically modified girls, who are determined to stop the travesty.

In the US in current times, there is a lot of discussion about the members of congress and whether they are competent, decent, judicious people with good intentions but they don’t hold a candle to the one in this story, the man who owned Ella and father to Penn, the young man Ella loves. Many young adult stories overdo it with the romance, in my opinion, but this love story that has developed over three books is natural and organic, the way it should be.

Ella and Penn, especially Ella, have been fighting for the rights of the pet girls but now face a new betrayal, one that forces them to lead a small group in rebellion. Ella has grown, mentally and emotionally, by leaps and bounds since her time as a pet and has become something of a heroine, always with justice as her goal. Tension rides high on nearly every page in this tale and I think this was a fitting end to a terrific series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2018.

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Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon
Indiebound // Entangled Publishing

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An Excerpt from Unraveled

No one glanced up at us as we left. We were inconsequential, just two kids leaving a pizza place. And that’s exactly what we felt like—kids. Powerless. Weak. Alone.

The bell on the door jingled lightly once more, and we stepped back out into the night. Once again, the sound of jazz music drifted out of the bar next door. I paused, listening to the soulful cry of the saxophone. For a moment, I closed my eyes, focusing on the full, round tone.

And then, just as the last note of the song died away, the bomb went off.

One single note rang in my ears.

High pitched.

Whining.

The saxophone… It had just been playing, wasn’t it? I could remember the low, sweet crooning, but that wasn’t what this sound was.

I shook my head and tried to bring a hand up to my eyes, but something held it clamped down at my side. I tried to wiggle free, but there was something pressing my back, too, making it hard to breathe.

I coughed. My mouth was dry, thick with dust and the taste of metal.

“Penn,” I croaked. “Penn?”

I blinked, trying to turn my head.

In front of me the ground spread out like a battle field.

Red and blue lights blinked behind a cloud of dust. Dark forms moved left and right, up and down. Long limbs waved to one another.

My cheek pressed against something rough.

“Penn!”

“Here’s one,” someone said. They sounded far away, a voice inside a bubble floating somewhere high above my head.

The weight on my back lifted, and a hand slipped beneath me, lifting me from the ground. I choked in a deep gulp of air and balanced on my wobbly legs. Even with the world tipped vertically once more, I couldn’t make sense of it.

“Ella!”

I turned.

The dark outline of Penn stumbled toward me.

Behind him, the building crumbled in on itself. Brick and cement.Wire and steel.Here and there a tipped table, a smashed chair. Broken glass littered the ground, glittering with the orange light of flames that glowed inside the hole where a door had just been. A door. A door. The door that had just jingled shut behind me.

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About the Author

Kate Jarvik Birch is a visual artist, author, playwright, daydreamer, and professional procrastinator. As a child, she wanted to grow up to be either a unicorn or mermaid. Luckily, being a writer turned out to be just as magical. Her essays and short stories have been published in literary journals, including: Indiana Review and Saint Ann’s Review. She lives in Salt Lake City, Utah with her husband and three kids.

Find Kate at:

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram

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Giveaway
Signed copy of Unraveled

Enter here.

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Book Reviews: Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed and One Silver Summer by Rachel Hickman

Love, Hate and Other Filters
Samira Ahmed
Soho Teen, January 2018
ISBN 978-1-61695-847-3
Hardcover

First and foremost, this book is exquisitely authored. Beautiful, not in a flowery, colorful sort of way; but rather in a raw, natural, simple-yet-stunning kind of way. And so, a snap-shot of Maya’s senior year: dating, spring break, planning for college…as an Indian Muslim American…would be wholly satisfying, entirely engaging and enlightening. But it would only scratch the surface. With a wide lens, Ms. Ahmed provides perspective; contrived categories soften into truer compilations.

To most of Maya’s peers, her parents are almost unreasonably strict. Maya may secretly agree, but at least they “aren’t exactly the fire-and-brimstone types”.  Aware of her family’s (limited) leniencies, Maya is surprised when Kareem, a desi Muslim, has a glass of wine. But, as he points out, “…it’s not like I eat pork.” More importantly, he is not a white American boy. Like Philip.

And so, the scene is set.

But, a somber tone seeps through. Snippets of seething anger and frustration simmer to a frenzied, desperate desire for revenge. Building tension becomes tangible. An explosion is imminent.

The inundation of information immediately following a blow-up is, unfortunately, often inaccurate and incomplete. Even more egregious, these initial errors are what people tend to remember. By the time facts have been collected and the whole, true story can be told; no one is there to listen. Life goes on, public perception remains unchanged.

Except for the person presumed guilty. And his family. Or everyone with his last name.

Love, Hate and Other Filters is the rest of the story and it is relatable and relevant.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2018.

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One Silver Summer
Rachel Hickman
Scholastic Press, May 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-80892-7
Hardcover

Despite knowing full well that I was reading-for-review, I became so caught up in the very love story that little-girl-me always dreamed of, that I devoured this book like a starved Cookie Monster demolishes cookies.  Even at this frantic pace, I was aware of the ‘something more’ to the story—hints were subtle, yet almost undeniable—perhaps somewhat subliminal.

One Silver Summer is more than the whole-hearted-head-over-heels love story of a shattered girl and a stunning, spirited mare.  There are mysteries to be solved: what horrific happening has sent Sass across the pond to live with the uncle she only just learned of?  Maybe that’s moot.  Perhaps this was her path all along—the past has a tendency to come back, after all.

The guarded groomsman, Alexander, is a bit of a mystery himself.  To Sass, his mannerisms don’t seem to fit his position, although understanding hierarchy is not her forte—no need for that in New York City.  His moods shifts are also perplexing.  Sometimes he seems relaxed and happy with company, while other times he’s oddly secretive and suspicious.

Sass and the silver horse are certainly central, but Alexander, his quite proper British grandmother, and affable artist, Uncle David, take the tome to another level.  A love story in the broadest sense: fondness developing among family members just getting familiar; the unconditional, admiring adoration between grandparent and grandchild; forbidden love, lost in a flash (but with a lingering fondness); and love formed from empathy and nostalgia.

Also, this is a story of learning to separate who you are from a persona based solely on other people’s perceptions.  A reminder of the need to be flexible, reflective and always open-minded.  An understanding that even adults must continue to grow, to adapt—not to survive, but to thrive.  A narrative of hope and heartbreak that is fantastically fabulous.  Immediately after reading the very last words, Acknowledgements and About the Author; I turned to the first page and read the entire book again.

Reviewed by jv poore, May 2017.

Book Review: Sneaking Out by Chuck Vance

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Title: Sneaking Out
Series: The Chased Series, Book One
Author: Chuck Vance
Publisher: Dunemere Books
Publication Date: March 6, 2018
Genres: Mystery, Young Adult

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon // Indiebound

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Sneaking Out
The Chased Series, Book One
Chuck Vance
Dunemere Books, March 2018
ISBN 978-0-998499772
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Could you sleep next to a murderer?

Luke Chase—yes, that Luke Chase, a modern hero ripped from the headlines—didn’t mean to get caught up in Mrs. Heckler’s murder. He just wanted to hook up with the hot new British girl at St. Benedict’s, and if that meant sneaking out to the woods after hours, then so be it. But little did he know someone would end up dead right next to their rendezvous spot, and his best friend and roommate Oscar Weymouth would go down for it. With suspects aplenty and a past that’s anything but innocent, Luke Chase reluctantly calls on his famous survival skills to find the true killer.

There’s something very appealing to me about boarding school stories and it’s even better when the premise is a mystery. I think a large part of my liking comes from the notion that the kids involved, while supervised (as much as teens can be), have the opportunity to put their own wits to good use. That can lead to adventures and comical episodes and some pretty nifty sleuthing, all very attractive things for a story to have.

It also helps when the main character is a teen I wouldn’t mind spending time with in real life and that’s certainly the case with Luke. This is a kid with some major baggage but he really wants to help his friend, Oscar, when the chips are down. Luke isn’t alone, though, as some of the other kids are just as motivated as he is to solve the murder even if their motivations aren’t necessarily the same as his.

Mr. Vance has done a nice job crafting a good whodunnit that sent me down a variety of paths before the truth came to light and left me wanting more. I do hope the second book will be coming soon.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2018.

About the Author

Chuck Vance is a pseudonym for a bestselling writer of both adult mysteries and novels for young adults. Vance attended boarding school in Connecticut and graduated from Columbia University. Vance has lived in New York, Moscow, London, Paris and Los Angeles and is frequently on the move.

Author links: 

Website // Goodreads

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Book Review: Jinxed by Thommy Hutson

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Title: Jinxed
Author: Thommy Hutson
Publisher: Vesuvian Books
Publication Date: March 13, 2018
Genres: Horror, Thriller, Young Adult

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Amazon // Indiebound

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Jinxed
Thommy Hutson
Vesuvian Books, March 2018
ISBN 978-1-944109-12-7
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Break a mirror
Walk under a ladder
Step on a crack

Innocent childhood superstitions…

But someone at the Trask Academy of Performing Arts is taking things one deadly step further when the campus is rocked with the deaths of some of its star students.

Layna Curtis, a talented, popular senior, soon realizes that the seemingly random, accidental deaths of her friends aren’t random—or accidents—at all. Someone has taken the childhood games too far, using the idea of superstitions to dispose of their classmates. As Layna tries to convince people of her theory, she uncovers the terrifying notion that each escalating, gruesome murder leads closer to its final victim: her.

Will Layna’s opening night also be her final bow?

Although I’ve watched a few in the past, I’m not a fan of slasher films, but the description of this story led me to believe this would have more substance than the usual blood and guts. Certainly there’s plenty of graphic violence but Jinxed is definitely a cut above those films that really have little to offer beyond the violence and a very weak tale. I chalk that up to the ability of the written word to create much more than a film can in a reader’s imagination.

It’s easy to empathize with Layna even though she’s not especially appealing. Like many of her fellow students, theatrics are in her blood so it’s hard sometimes to believe that her emotions are real. Still, when secrets begin to come out, Layna becomes more vulnerable and, thus, more approachable. When all is said and done, Mr. Hutson has a fine hand with the horror genre and his concept is one that will probably translate to film quite well.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2018.

About the Author

Born and raised in Upstate New York, Thommy graduated from UCLA and launched his career co-writing the story for the Warner Bros. animated hit SCOOBY-DOO IN WHERE’S MY MUMMY? He followed that with co-writing the concept and additional material for CHILL OUT, SCOOBY-DOO!

His career then took a thrilling turn when he wrote and produced several definitive genre film retrospectives for television and home entertainment: SCREAM: THE INSIDE STORY, NEVER SLEEP AGAIN: THE ELM STREET LEGACY, MORE BRAINS! A RETURN TO THE LIVING DEAD and HIS NAME WAS JASON: 30 YEARS OF FRIDAY THE 13th.

He was also a staff writer on Hulu’s daily web series “The Morning After,” a smart, witty, pop culture program aimed at getting viewers up-to-date on the latest entertainment news and celebrity interviews.

Thommy also produced the critically acclaimed feature THE TROUBLE WITH THE TRUTH, an insightful relationship drama starring Lea Thompson and John Shea. He also produced DREAMWORLD, a quirky, romantic dramedy.

He co-wrote and produced ANIMAL for Chiller Films and Drew Barrymore’s Flower Films. The project debuted in iTunes’ top ten horror films (reaching #1) and became the network’s highest-rated original movie.

Continuing his passion for uncovering the stories behind the story, he went on to produce CRYSTAL LAKE MEMORIES: THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF FRIDAY THE 13th, which is the most comprehensive look at the popular film franchise.

As an author Thommy crafted a limited-edition coffee table book detailing the making and legacy of Wes Craven’s 1984 classic A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. A trade version distributed by Simon & Schuster reached number one in Amazon.com’s Movie History & Criticism category. He also has a deal with Vesuvian Media to write a YA thriller trilogy with the first book due out spring 2017.

He produced and made his feature directorial debut with THE ID, an independent psychological drama/thriller. Filmmaker Magazine stated it was “a deeply unsettling thriller that’s as moving as it is frightening…with skillful, provocative direction that has echoes of early Polanski.”

Most recently, Thommy wrote the screenplay for CineTel Films’ supernatural horror film TRUTH OR DARE. He is also directing, writing and producing a documentary with Clive Barker’s Seraphim Films in addition to developing other film and television properties with the company.

As an author, he is currently writing another book that definitively details the history, making and legacy of another fan-favorite genre film from the 1980s.

A member of the Producers Guild of America, Thommy continues to develop unique, compelling and provocative projects across multiple genres for film, television, publishing, and home entertainment through his company Hutson Ranch Media.

Catch Up With Thommy Hutson On thommyhutson.com, Goodreads, Twitter, & Facebook!

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