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Amanda Ryan

Spinning Gold by Vivi Andrews

Rating: B       Romance: 2/5       Raunch: 3/5

Redonk Nutshell: Rumpelstiltskin gets a new spin <-see what I did there?

Juliana Ravel is seeking desperate measures to save her brother from the Prince’s executioner. She seeks to make an appeal, and as a last ditch effort to woo the Prince to her plea, she claims to be able to spin straw into gold. The prince, in all his shady, smarmy charm, accepts and Juliana could just SMACK herself for even THINKING of making such an offer. At her wit’s end, she grasps her inherited pendant to in her hand and cries desperate tears. When a man of gold appears she’s stunned. When the aforementioned man attempts to strangle her, she gets angry.

When Rue, a gold fae,  is summoned from his imprisonment and finds himself standing before a woman whom he assumes is the same witch who imprisoned him AND his sister, he goes for blood. But when the woman pleads for him to stop, he hesitates. The sorceress who had imprisoned him would not have plead for anything. He soon realizes the woman is not his jailer but rather her great-granddaughter. Juliana explains her situation, and though Rue doesn’t really want to help, he cant’ help but be a bit…intrigued by her.

They strike up something of a friendship. When Juliana begins to dream of her gold fairy, the friendship begins to stretch its bounds into lover territory. When the prince arrives the next day to find Juliana has miraculously managed to keep her side of the bargain, he insists that she marry him. Juliana has no desire to marry the pyscho, but he more or less threatens to kill her brother if she refuses. The story moves forward to Juliana being forced to spin more gold while attempting to find a way to 1) free Rue from his entrapment spell 2) wiggle her way from beneath the prince’s grasp and  3) free her brother. She ends up undertaking a revolt against the prince’s regime, picking up where her brother had left off. In the process, she and Rue end up becoming closer than either anticipated, and they each have to weight their actions and those actions’ repercussions.

Vivi Andrews is new to me so I was excited to both read a new author AND read a fairy tale reboot. I love me some fairy tale re-tellings, and Spinning Gold does not disappoint. As far as length goes it’s more toward a novella, so we don’t get a lot of detail on how, exactly, Juliana begins to stir up a revolt and what, exactly, goes on between her and the prince outside of their monthly exchange when he expects her to spin gold. We do, however, get a nice glimpse into the blooming attraction and relationship between her and Rue. It’s sweet and gradually becomes pretty sexy.

I enjoyed this book. It’s well written & edited, and offers a fun, unpredictable twist on a classic tale. If you’re looking for a short and enjoyable read, give Spinning Gold a shot.

Spinning Gold by Vivi Andrews

The Duke is Mine by Eloisa James

Redonk Nutshell: Brutally honest heroine finds herself drawn to a straight laced duke

This is the 3rd in Eloisa James’s fairy tale inspired regency romance series. The fairy tale? The princess and the pea.

Olivia Lytton has been engaged to her fiancee from the cradle. Duke of Canterwick is mentally disabled. He’s slow. He’s sweet as pie, but the poor kid is clueless to what’s expected of him and what people say about him. Olivia and he are good friends, but beyond that there isn’t much more to say. In fact, the duke is more attached to his former stray dog than his fiancee. But Olivia honors the engagement, knowing that it wil do good for her younger sister in making a decent match.  The ideal candidate?  Tarquin, the Duke of Sconce. When Tarquin invites the women to a house party, he finds himself drawn not to Olivia’s sister, but Olivia herself.  Which is craziness, because Olivia is Trouble. She has a wicked and honest sense of humor, and doesn’t hesitate to call things like they are. Tarquin is a quiet and brooding man, conditioned to closet away any form of emotion.  These two together are like flame to gasoline, and neither can keep the fire from burning out of control.

This was a very enjoyable read.  I found myself laughing out loud several times at Olivia’s brutal sense of humor.  Sarcastic she is, but she is also extremely loyal.  To both her sister and her affianced duke.  She defends him to no end when the guests of the house party talk about him and his deficiencies.

The Duke is Mine had me up until the final few chapters, where events lead us to the shores of France. It seemed sort of, well, forced.  And the mattresses connection to the fairy tale didn’t really click for me. It was a reach, though it worked.

Overall, I very much enjoyed this book.  A feisty heroine pulls the best characteristics out of a sheltered hero.  It’s quite lovely.

The Duke is Mine by Eloisa James

Rating: B

Romance: 4/5            Raunch: 3.5/5

Firelight by Kristen Callihan

Redonk Nutshell: A masked man & woman haunted by fiery abilities team up to track down someone committing murders to members of a mysterious club

What do you get when you combine a regency Gothic romance with paranormal themes and fairy tale inspiration?  Answer: Firelight, by Kristen Callihan.  It sounds complicated, but she pulls it off with ease.  And it’s FANTASTIC!

Miranda Ellis is tormented by her strange ability to control and conjure fire and flame.  She’s been working for her scoundrel father for years, stealing and pick-pocketing to make ends meet.  When Lord Benjamin Archer offers to pay off the man’s debts in exchange for marrying her, she’s put off.  At first.  She gradually comes around, especially when she realizes this is the renowned man that goes around wearing a mask.  No one knows what he looks like nor why he hides his face.  He’s elusive and mysterious.  They marry quickly, and before long Miranda comes to realize the man behind the mask has hidden more than his face behind his mask.  He’s tormented by his own past.  When friends of his begin turning up murdered, and the murderer is obviously out to frame Archer, they team up to figure out who’s behind it.  In the process, they end up becoming fast friends, and gradually, lovers.

I loved, loved, loved this book.  It’s dark and sensual Gothic theme is incredibly seductive.  Pair that with the paranormal element of Miranda’ s power of fire and Archer’s elusive past with demons and the face he hides behind the mask, you’ve got an incredible power-hitting novel that’s guaranteed to knock your socks off.

These two characters really jump off the page.  Miranda is Belle to Archer’s Beast.  They banter back and forth in a way that had me laughing.  Their attraction is toe-curling. When things really being to heat up (pun TOTALLY intended) it’s truly intriguing.

Firelight is an adventurous, Gothic paranormal read that will take you on a thrilling ride that’ll have you panting for the next book.

Firelight by Kristen Callihan, 384pgs, 1/31/12

Rating: A

Romance: 3/5          Raunch: 3.5/5

 

The Demon Lover by Juliet Dark

Redonk Nutshell: PhD expert in folklore has explicitly intimate encounters with the subjects of her study upon moving to a small secluded Northeastern town to teach at a small college

Though this cover is beautiful, it screams YA! to me.  Note to all: THIS IS SOOOOO NOT YA. No, no, my fellow Raunchers.  I was delightfully intrigued to find The Demon Lover was an enthralling sultry and intellectual story, a combination that reminded me of Deborah Harkness’s A Discovery of Witches, which attempted the same alchemy but didn’t…quite…make it.  Juliet Dark, aka Carol Goodman, bursts out the door running with her first supernatural erotic thriller.  I ended up really enjoying this book and am likely going to list it in my top favorites for 2011.

Dr Cailleach McFay is an independent brilliant woman who is interviewing for positions as a professor of folklore at several colleges.  She’s charmed by the small school town of Fairwick and ends up accepting a position.  She falls in love with an enchanting Victorian home with something of a sordid past, and before long she realizes that things aren’t quite what they seem in the small town of Fairwick.  Her coworkers are a bit…unique.  Her house is harboring a…sex demon.  And Callie realizes she herself might be the key to something hidden deep in the thicket surrounding her home.

Most romance novels are fluffy, fairly quick reads that are perfect for the beach or a quick getaway.  The Demon Lover is too rich, too heady to rush through, and would be best relished on a cool rainy day with a cup of your favorite hot beverage.  It’s a fantastic Gothic treat.  Callie’s knowledge and experience with Gothic fiction and folklore add an intellectual perk to the dark and ravishing plot line, forcing the reader to slow down and process what’s being thrown at them.  There were moments where I checked out and had to go back and re-read, some details that didn’t seem vital to the plot, but it didn’t drag down the overall enjoyment of the book.  Unlike A Discovery of Witches, this story was passionate and erotic while still maintaining an intellectual flair.

Author Carol Goodman stretches her legs in the paranormal fantasy genre under the pseudonym Juliet Dark.  I have not read anything else by her (yet), though I’ll be keeping an eye out for it.  I had previously thought to read The Watchtower, another paranormal fantasy by Lee Carroll, who I discovered is actually a team comprised of Carol Goodman and her husband Lee Slonimsky.  Now I’m definitely going to add it to my TBR stack.

Sexy, dark, and thrilling, I would consider The Demon Lover to be one of my favorite discoveries of 2011.

The Demon Lover by Juliet Dark

Rating: B+

Romance: 3/5                       Raunch: 4/5

Fairest of them All by Teresa Medeiros

Redonk Nutshell: A legendary beauty disguises herself in a hideous costume to deter suitors in a competition for her hand, and inadvertently falls in love with one of them

Fairest of them All  is the story of Holly, the legendary beauty who’s father wants her wed and holds a tournament to find her a husband. Never one to back down from a challenge, Holly decides to adorn herself as a hideous frump of a woman.

Sir Austyn of Gavenmore is on the hunt for a plain and simple bride, preferably one with a decent dowry. He travels to compete in the tournament for Holly’s hand.  He has heard tales of the woman’s beauty, and when she is revealed to be…er…lacking…it doesn’t deter him in the least.  In fact, his family is rumored to be cursed by beautiful women, so Holly fits his needs perfectly.

Austyn wins the tournament easily, and when he takes Holly back to his home in Wales, Holly is determined to keep him at bay through desperate theatrical shows she think will make him regret his winnings.  What she doesn’t count on is being drawn to Austyn simply for him being him, and when her hag costume beings to weigh heavily on her, Holly realizes she needs to come clean. When Austyn learns of her deception (and believe me, he does), he locks her in the highest tower of his fortress.  Regardless of the distance between them, both physically and emotionally, the connection that had been made between them in the few weeks they had together bound them, and Austyn can’t keep himself away from her.

I enjoyed Fairest of them All. It was a sweet fairy tale spin set in an early English time period.  I’m pretty sure I tore through this baby in a day or so.  An easy, fluffy read that left me with a happy smile on my face.

Fairest of them All by Teresa Medeiros, 372 pgs, 1993

Rating: B-

Romance: 3/5          Raunch: 3/5

A Kiss to Remember by Teresa Medeiros

Redonk Nutshell: Mistaken identity, amnesia, and desperation collide between a Duke and a gentlewoman hoping to cling to her childhood estate

I love Teresa Medeiros, so it hurts me to admit that I had a hell of a time getting into this book. It dragged a bit for me to the point where I actually put it down and came back to it weeks later.  The good news is I’m glad I came back to it because I ended up really enjoying it.

Basically, we start out with a young boy, Sterling Harlowe, who is more or less “sold” to a rich relative so the relative can pass down his Dukedom to a male heir.  Fast forward, and our little boy has grown into a dark and notorious libertine.  When the estate his estranged mother becomes entangled in a bizarre claim by its tenant, Sterling takes it upon himself to make the trek to the house himself to, more or less, toss it’s inhabitants out on their arse.  What he doesn’t count on, however, is being attacked by a tree limb and knocked unconscious.

When Laura Fairleigh comes across a handsome man lying asleep in the woods she finds herself reflecting back to fairy tales and wakes him with a kiss.  When the man can’t remember a thing about who he is or where he comes from, Laura grabs the opportunity to inform him of their engagement.  You see, Laura is desperate to hang on to her home, an estate which supposedly will remain hers if she marries before her birthday, otherwise it will fall into the hands of The Duke of Devonbrooke.  Laura takes the man to her home and nurses him back to health, and in the three weeks leading up to their marriage, Laura and and he end up having something resembling a genuine attraction to each other.

A problem arises, however, when Sterling takes another blow to the head upon their exit from the chapel after their wedding and remembers everything.  Laura, to her horror, realizes she hasn’t wed a nobody but instead her archenemy.

What dragged for me was the beginning, the part where we get an idea of how dark and unconscionable Sterling is.  Laura, and her family’s introduction dragged for me as well.  It wasn’t until Sterling starts to assume his role as Laura’s dream rescuer when things began to pick up.

The best way to describe what happens when Sterling’s memories return? A trainwreck.  And I couldn’t look away. You can’t help but root for Laura, despite the blatant deception she attempted. In a way she gets her own comeuppance since she unknowingly besotted herself with her nemesis. Regardless, it’s fun to watch these two wade between what emotions were real and what were imagined.

Overall, I ended up enjoying A Kiss to Remember.  Despite the slow beginning, once the action got rolling it trekked along at an unstoppable path through the end.  The character development was stellar.

A Kiss to Remember by Teresa Medeiros, 368 pgs, 2001

Rating: C+

Romance: 2/5                     Raunch: 2/5

Entwined, Heather Dixon

Title: Entwined

Author: Heather Dixon

Redonk Nutshell: A dark retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses

Official Synopsis: Azalea is trapped. Just when she should feel that everything is before her… beautiful gowns, dashing suitors, balls filled with dancing…it’s taken away.  All of it. The Keeper understands.  He’s trapped, too, held for centuries within the walls of the palace. And so he extends an invitation.  Every night, Azalea and her eleven sisters may step through the enchanted passage in their room to dance in his silver forest.But there is a cost.  The Keeper likes to keep things.  Azalea may not realize how tangled she is in his web until it is too late.

Every now and then a book comes along with such a beautiful cover that it’s deemed a crime not to pick it up.  Entwined is one of these books.  Purty, ain’t it? Yeah, I thought so too.  I was tickled pink when the story ended up being as much as a gem as its beautiful cover artwork.

Entwined is more or less a re-telling of the fairy tale of the twelve dancing princesses.  Set in a world of suppressed magic, Azalea and her eleven younger sisters are reeling from the recent loss of their mother and their father’s closeted grief.  Their father, the King, or “Sir,” as the girls have taken to addressing him, imposes a year-long period of mourning, in which the girls are not allowed to wear anything but black, not allowed to be outside the palace unless on R.B. (that’s short for Royal Business), and, above all, are not allowed to dance.

Feeling stifled and trapped, Azalea and her sisters stumble upon a secret corridor in their magically dormant castle that takes her to an enchanted forest where she meets The Keeper, a dark and handsome stranger who can mold the magic around them with a flick of his fingers.  From thence on, the girls visit Keeper every night to partake in dancing.  Before long, however, Azalea beings to notice something is a bit…off.  Things begin disappearing.  By the time she realizes what sort of game Keeper is playing, she and her family are too deeply embroiled to back out.

I was enchanted with this book.  It’s dark and alluring, while being scary and endearing all at the same time.  This is how fairy tales should be!  Heather Dixon writes fantastic individual character traits for each of the girls, which is no easy feat.  There were exchanges throughout the book that had me giggling out loud.  Azalea and her sisters are all definitely one of a kind.

YA can be a tricky genre.  There are some YA books you read that are definitely written for teens.  Then there are others that sort of dart between different genres.  What I really appreciated about Entwined was that it encompasses a bit of it all.  It teases the child in you while romancing the adult.  It’s a wonderful balance.

Now, me being the Raunchy McRaunch that I am, I almost found myself wishing there was an “adult” extension.  Then I remembered a lovely little gem I found a few years ago by Nancy Madore called, not surprisingly, The Twelve Dancing Princesses.  It’s an erotic retelling of the tale, a sort of anthology of twelve stories featuring each princess.  I just may have to break it out after having read Entwined.

Rating: B

Romance: 3/5          Raunch: 0/5

 

A Kiss at Midnight, Eloisa James

Title: A Kiss at Midnight

Author: Eloisa James

Redonk Nutshell: Take-charge Cinderella meets her prince while in disguise

Official Synopsis: Miss Kate Daltry doesn’t believe in fairy tales… or happily ever after. Forced by her stepmother to attend a ball, Kate meets a prince… and decides he’s anything but charming. A clash of wits and wills ensues, but they both know their irresistible attraction will lead nowhere. For Gabriel is promised to another woman—a princess whose hand in marriage will fulfill his ruthless ambitions.Gabriel likes his fiancé, which is a welcome turn of events, but he doesn’t love her. Obviously, he should be wooing his bride-to-be, not the witty, impoverished beauty who refuses to fawn over him.Godmothers and glass slippers notwithstanding, this is one fairy tale in which destiny conspires to destroy any chance that Kate and Gabriel might have for a happily ever after.Unless a prince throws away everything that makes him noble…Unless a dowry of an unruly heart trumps a fortune…Unless one kiss at the stroke of midnight changes everything.

I was looking forward to reading this book, especially after enjoying its sequel in the series, When Beauty Tamed the Beast. I have a fondness for fairy tale re-tellings.  A Kiss At Midnight is a Cinderella-inspired story featuring Kate Daltry and Prince Gabriel.  Kate is the older daughter of the family, and she more or less assumes responsibility of the estate of her stepmother and stepsister.  Kate and her stepsister, Victoria, are actually very good friends, which is how Kate gets into her situation in the first place.  Victoria is engaged to her lover, Algernon, but in order for them to go through with the proceedings, they must be introduced to Algernon’s relatives and receive their consent.  After a silly accident with one of her dogs that leaves her with a swollen lip, Victoria asks Kate to go in her stead.  Kate reluctantly agrees.  Of course, the moment Kate meets Algernon’s uncle, the prince, there is a spark of instant chemistry.  The catch?  Prince Gabriel is betrothed to a Russian princess, of whom is very much an heiress and can support his newly inherited castle and estate.

I enjoyed Kiss, but it didn’t surpass When Beauty Tamed the Beast.  It was a fun and feisty tale, a fresh spin on the Cinderella story that felt new and intriguing.  While I liked this book, it’s not one that stuck with me.  There is good banter between the main characters, and the romance is lovely, but it wasn’t memorable.

Rating: C

Romance: 3/5            Raunch: 2/5

Charming the Prince, Teresa Medeiros

Title: Charming the Prince

Author: Teresa Medeiros

Redonk Nutshell: Cinderella meets Pan’s Lost Boys in 14th century

Official Synopsis: He never lost a battle until he met the one woman who might succeed in… Charming the Prince. Dear Reader, My enemies know me as Lord Bannor the Bold, Pride of the English and Terror of the French. Never in my life have I backed down from any challenge or betrayed so much as a hint of fear–until the war ended and I found myself a reluctant papa to a dozen unruly children. Realizing that I couldn’t lop their little heads off or throw them in the dungeon, I sent my steward out to find them a mother and me a bride–an attractive, meek, maternal creature too plain to tempt me to get her with child. You can imagine my horror when he returned with Lady Willow of Bedlington, a spirited beauty who made me think of nothing else! With her cloud of dark curls and the sparkle of passion in her eyes, Willow was everything I’d sworn to resist. I never dreamed she would join forces with those mischievous imps of mine to teach this cynical warrior just how sweet surrender can be. Bannor the Bold, Lord of Elsinore

I came across this book while browsing Barnes & Noble’s website.  I was chomping at the bit for something new to read, but my mood was more finicky than usual.  The novels on my to-read list on Shelfari just weren’t doing it for me, and I was now perusing the romance section at random.  This book popped up in one of those “readers who looked at the book you clicked on also picked THIS”, and I was intrigued by the premise.  I downloaded a sample and off I went…never looking back.

This is more or less a reboot of Cinderella but without the fairy tale godmother.  No, Lady Willow Bedlington doesn’t need anyone other than herself to come to her own rescue.  She fares rather well in her circumstances, having been reduced to working as a babysitter and maid to her step siblings (and lord there be many of them).  She’s bold, strong, and brave.  So when the chance to get the hell outta dodge comes around she opts to take it – she accepts an offer to marry a distant Lord.  Lord Bannor the Bold is handsome, has a voracious reputation on the battlefield, and is rich and well respected.  What Willow doesn’t know is that he also has a brood of children.  Lord Bannor put out the word he was looking for a wife, but what he really wanted was a mother.  Why?  Because his hellion children are wrecking havoc on him, and he needs someone to bring them to heel.  What he doesn’t count on is actually falling in love with his wife.

This book is incredibly charming and had me giggling out loud at times.  I enjoyed Willow’s character – she’s a tough, I-fall-but-get-back-up-again kind of gal who doesn’t spend her time brooding over her less-than desirable upbringing.  Bannor is fun to read as well, what with his viking-like warrior’s reputation having been threatened to shambles by his 12 year old son and his younger cronies.   Bannor and Willow are equal matches to each other, and it equates to some pretty hilarious showdowns.  The children are rambunctious, obnoxious and adorable all at the same time.  They truly paint a wonderful supporting cast to the two leads.

I absolutely adored this book.  I’m so glad I came across it.  I hadn’t stumbled upon it before that day, so the Raunch Gods must have smiled upon me.

What I loved about this book: Funny, romantic, clever…it’s got a little bit of it all

What I didn’t like:

Rating: A

Romance: 4/5     Raunch: 3/5

I look forward to reading more by Teresa Medeiros.  Charming the Prince is an older release of hers, so I’m really excited to check out more of her work.

When Beauty Tamed the Beast by Eloisa James

Title: When Beauty Tamed the Beast

Author: Eloisa James

Redonk Nutshell: Regency era House M.D. meets his match

Official Synopsis: Miss Linnet Berry Thrynne is a Beauty . . . Naturally, she’s betrothed to a Beast. Piers Yelverton, Earl of Marchant, lives in a castle in Wales where, it is rumored, his bad temper flays everyone he crosses. And rumor also has it that a wound has left the earl immune to the charms of any woman. Linnet is not just any woman. She is more than merely lovely: her wit and charm brought a prince to his knees. She estimates the earl will fall madly in love—in just two weeks. Yet Linnet has no idea of the danger posed to her own heart by a man who may never love her in return. If she decides to be very wicked indeed . . . what price will she pay for taming his wild heart?

Remember that one post where I said I was attempting to exercise self control and not purchase books (you know, the one from yesterday?)?  EPIC FAIL.  I couldn’t help it, though.  I had downloaded a sample of When Beauty Tamed the Beast via my Kindle app and I was sucked in.  I even picked up my first available book from the library (Lisa Kleypas’s Seduce me at Sunrise) and I just couldn’t get into it.  My imagination is stubborn like that sometimes, I guess.  So I crumbled and bought this book.  And I am SOOO glad I did, because I adored it.  I read it in one sitting.  Yeah, I was up until midnight, but it was worth it.

It’s hard being beautiful.  Especially when you’re turned down by a prince and a nasty rumor starts circulating that you’re knocked up (damn that dress looked good on paper but not so flattering in reality).  Linnet’s reputation hangs in delicate balance and her father and aunt take it upon themselves to rectify the situation by setting her up with the Earl of Marchant, Piers Yelverton,  aka The Beast.  Why is he called The Beast?  Because he’s a bit of,er, a smartass.  Doesn’t give a toss what people say or think about him.  He’s a brilliant doctor and he gets results where other don’t, so he couldn’t give two figs about other people’s opinions of him.  He’s grump because of an injury he sustained to his leg that permanently handicapped him (Hey House fans, is this sounding familiar?).  He’s less than thrilled when his estranged father shows up with Linnet, his imposed fiancee, but he deals with it in a way only he can – snarky sarcasm.  But he’s pleasantly surprised when Linnet snarks right back at him.

James weaves a beautifully witty story between two strong characters who end up falling helplessly for each other.  They spar from their first meeting on, and it’s hilariously wonderful:

“I suppose you think I’ll fall in love with you,” he said.    “Quite likely.”   “How long do you give yourself?” He sounded genuinely curious.    “Two weeks at the outside.”  And then she did give him The Smile – dimples, charm, sensuality and all.

He didn’t even blink.  “Was that the best you’ve got?”  Despite herself, a giggle escaped, and then another.  “Generally that’s more than enough.”       “I suppose I should say something reassuring at this point.”  He pitched his voice to a groveling apology.  “It’s not me, it’s you.” Then: “Oops! Got that backwards.  It’s not you, it’s me.”

I personally love House M.D., and I found this romance novel refreshing and enchanting at its usage of the hit TV show as inspiration.  James explains at the end of the book that she did, indeed, use the show as fodder for imagination.  I wasn’t bothered by this, though I could understand if other readers found themselves distracted by the constant comparison.  Personally, I really looked forward to what would come out of Piers’ mouth next.

I really enjoyed this book.  It made me laugh out loud at times, and I was genuinely endeared to the characters.  I’m don’t regret my lack of self control, because I definitely see myself reading this book again in the future, and probably many times thereafter.

What I loved about this book: The banter, the humor, the imperfect nature of the characters and them coming to terms with it

What I didn’t like: I thought the pacing was a bit slow in the beginning; some readers may be turned off by the constant similarities to House

Rating: A

If James’ other books are as fun as this one I’ll definitely be adding them to my to-be-read list.

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