Author Interview: Mirriam Neal

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There are some bloggers who are simply unmistakable and unforgettable. Mirriam Neal is such a blogger. The first time I read one of her posts, I felt her storytelling seep into my soul. So much, that it’s been nearly two years and I haven’t forgotten the first post I read on her blog. I stumbled on her writing by following a rabbit trail of three or four other blogs, but hers is the only one in that trail I still read consistently. Mirriam writes with such eloquence and depth, but also whimsy and humor. Today, we’re celebrating the recent debut of her novel, Paper Crowns. (Which I desperately need to read. Curse homework for interfering with my reading habits.)

Until I can read the full novel, below is a little preview of Paper Crowns: 

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Ginger has lived in seclusion, with only her aunt Malgarel and her blue cat, Halcyon, to keep her company. Her sheltered, idyllic life is turned upside-down when her home is attacked by messengers from the world of fae. Accompanied by Halcyon (who may or may not be more than just a cat), an irascible wysling named Azrael, and a loyal fire elemental named Salazar, Ginger ventures into the world of fae to bring a ruthless Queen to justice.

Amazon // Barnes & Noble // Pages of Wonder

 

Doesn’t it sound magical? Be sure to check out the Paper Crowns Good Reads page for more. Before you rush off, though, pour a cup of mocha coffee and join me for a chat with Paper Crowns’ author Mirriam Neal. She graciously answered over a dozen of my questions, and her answers are as fabulous as I expected from her. They also make me even more eager to read Paper Crowns. 

  1. What does the beginning of your storytelling process look like? Do you outline, free write, etc.?
    The beginning always looks the same, but with different ingredients: I’ve had enough of said ingredients simmering around that I finally realize I can make something, as soon as I figure out exactly how. I’m a seventy-percent free writer and a thirty-percent plotter. I like to have a vague idea of how I want the book to end, and probably three major things I want to happen. Just enough pins to keep the whole thing from falling apart, and I take it from there.
  2. What was the most difficult part of writing Paper Crowns?
    Editing and revising, really. I wrote it in a month, so the whole thing was kind of a slapdash mess. It still is! I’m working on a couple more tweaks since a few scattered minor mistakes were found – it’s a process.
  3. Let’s play favorites! Without spoilers, who is your favorite character in Paper Crowns and why?
    This is phrased in a very tricky way, Sarah. Very tricky. Hmm. My favorite character to write? The character I’d most like to hang out with? WHICH ONE? Well, my favorite character to write was probably Azrael. He was the easiest. He wanted to be written (he’s pushy that way). The character I’d most like to hang out with is probably Hal. I’d have endless questions.
  4. What is your recipe for creativity?
    It depends, really. Sometimes it means a constant diet of reading, movies, shows, dramas, and music. Other times I need to step away for a while and not read anything but non-fiction. Usually it’s a good mix of both – but I try to immerse myself in stories and music pertinent to what I’m writing. I also try to get out and spend time in towns and cities as frequently as possible, and write in places other than my room or my house. Shaking things up a little often knocks something loose.
  5. Tea time! What’s your beverage of choice, if any, when writing?
    Black coffee is always my beverage of choice. Anytime, anywhere. (Although I’m a fan of many beverages and won’t turn down anything from tea to kombucha.)
  6. What is one thing most people wouldn’t guess about your writing?
    How hard it is, probably. Even the easy novels like the Paper series. They’re the hardest things I ever do. I get told my writing feels effortless much of the time, which is often a large compliment but sometimes feels a little confusing – is that good or bad? I don’t want people to think that writing is easy, or that I do it because I’m lazy. It’s real work. It stresses me and pushes me just like any job.
  7. What has been a defining moment for you as an author?
    My mother was reading one of my novels and was so physically revolted that she had to stop eating lunch. She asked how I could write something so horrible, and I pointed out that I hadn’t written anything horrible – I just wrote it so that her brain would fill in the gaps. She went back and re-read it, and told me, astonished, that I was right. This was a huge leap forward for me, both in style and in my personal confidence.
  8. If you could visit any fictional land, where would you travel?
    I would absolutely travel to Middle-Earth. #Basic, I know, but it was my first otherworld love and continues to be the strongest.
  9. What makes a good villain?
    I think the scariest villains are the ones who might actually do something good, or who show a human side to their villainy. In ‘Dragon Blade,’ Tiberius blinds his young brother with acid, but he weeps as he does it. He knows the pain he’s causing, and it pains him in turn – but he does it anyway. That’s terrifying.
  10. If you could have lunch with any author or artist, who would you choose?
    I would have lunch with John Howe. It’s still surreal to be able to say ‘I’m friends with John Howe,’ but it’s true – yet he lives in Switzerland, so we’ve never met. Having lunch with him would be a dream come true.
  11. Are there any quotes that inspire your creativity?
    Many quotes inspire me, but a consistent favorite is ‘be the person you needed when you were younger.’ It’s an important mindset, I think, and one I try to live by.
  12. Choose a superpower just for today.
    Flight. Every time.
  13. Would you rather have a pet dragon or unicorn? Why?
    A dragon. Unicorns are beautiful and often have healing powers, but dragons are more battle-fit, they can breathe fire (and often have other talents, like shape-shifting or voice mimicry) and they’re shrewd PLUS they can fly.
  14. Would you be most at home among hobbits, elves or dwarves?
    Elves. I think I would be happiest there. The history, the architecture, the art, the music, the war-skills, the aesthetics – the conversations I could have!
  15. Thank you for making an appearance at On Another Note today! Is there anything else you would like to share? The spotlight is yours!
    You have the ability to make an impact on everyone you meet. I think it’s an important thing to keep in mind. Thank you so much for having me, Sarah!

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About the Author: 

Mirriam Neal is a twenty-two-year-old Northwestern hipster living in Atlanta. She writes hard-to-describe books in hard-to-describe genres, and illustrates things whenever she finds the time. She aspires to live as faithfully and creatively as she can and she hopes you do, too.

Visit Mirriam’s blog, Wishful Thinking at mirriamneal.com or send a note to the­shieldmaiden@hotmail.com

Also check out the other stops on the Paper Crowns blog tour – you can view a complete list here.

Paper Crowns is available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Now scoot, go get a copy.

Happy reading!

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A Year in Review: Book Reviews

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Hello, booklings!
I didn’t want to carry any reviews from last year into this one, but the stack of books on my desk forces me to differ. So in the name of closing out 2015 (a month into 2016!), here are some review wrap-ups. 🙂

The Chase by Kyle and Kelsey Kupecky

the chaseIt’s been a few years since I gave up reading books about dating and relationships. After a while, they’re either all the same, or they all contradict one another. When I first heard of The Chase, though, it captured my attention. Written by Kyle & Kelsey Kupecky, it was refreshing to read a book about relationships from a younger couple’s perspective. Their love for one another shines through, but even more evident is their love for God. The Chase doesn’t focus merely on romantic relationships, as I initially expected. Rather, it speaks about chasing after God, first and foremost; the true lover of our souls. When we allow Jesus to take His rightful place in our hearts, everything else falls into place- even falling in love. After all, “God cares about your deepest desires, your hopes and dreams.” (from the Chase.)

I loved that this book didn’t offer any official guidelines. Too many books about relationships are built on checklists and leave no room for individuality or considering unique situations. Granted, there are some non-negotiable principles in the Bible, but much else is left to conjecture. The Chase isn’t written to be a rule book, but a handbook. It’s more of a guide than an instruction sheet. Instead of listing do’s and don’t’s for an earthly relationship, the book encourages young people to pursue God before pursuing another person.

I tend to be a bit cynical about relationship books, but the Chase is a sweet, uplifting read. It encouraged me to focus on falling in love with Jesus, and it also reminded my skeptical side that true love actually does exist outside of Disney movies. The writing style made me feel like I was sharing coffee with a trusted mentor and friend. The book is written mostly through stories, and throughout, there is bound to be something each reader connects to. This would be a wonderful book to read with a small group, or for personal study.

In Good Company by Jen Turano

From the Back Cover

in good company 1After growing up as an orphan, Millie Longfellow is determined to become the best nanny the East Coast has ever seen. Unfortunately, her playfulness and enthusiasm aren’t always well-received and she finds herself dismissed from yet another position.

Everett Mulberry has quite unexpectedly become guardian to three children that scare off every nanny he hires. About to depart for Newport, Rhode Island, for the summer, he’s desperate for competent childcare.

At wit’s end with both Millie and Everett, the employment agency gives them one last chance–with each other. As Millie falls in love with her mischievous charges, Everett focuses on achieving the coveted societal status of the upper echelons. But as he investigates the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of the children’s parents, will it take the loss of those he loves to learn whose company he truly wants for the rest of his life?

In Good Company certainly does come with good company. The first thing I noticed about the book was how quirky and lovable Jen Turano’s heroine is. Millie Longfellow isn’t your conventional protagonist. She’s not especially gifted, doesn’t have any unique advantages, and isn’t known for having good luck or the best ideas. Yet in spite of all her shortcomings, she’s a character I quickly came to love. She has the greatest of intentions, a generous amount of spunk, a hearty dose of patience, a creative perspective, and a genuinely kind heart. It’s these traits that made me cheer for her, even when she did something exasperating, and made me empathize with her when she faced yet another struggle.
In true Pride and Prejudice fashion, Everett is the perfect contrast to the scattered, energetic, bubbly Miss Longfellow. Reserved, successful and in control, a feisty nanny is the last thing Everett needs in his life. But since Millie is exactly what Everett’s young charges need, he’s forced to endure her unconventional ways and the occasional tumult she causes. Along the way, both Everett and Millie must confront their differences. Can two people from opposite worlds ever share their own world?
The supporting cast also features some delightful characters, some of whom I’m looking forward to meeting with in one of the author’s future stories.
In Good Company is a lighthearted read, which manages to be zany, amusing, romantic and even a little mysterious. The mentions of classic literature were a delightful addition, and Jen’s writing style makes it easy to read multiple chapters in a single sitting. I typically prefer heavier books, with more suspense and higher stakes, but I truly enjoyed this one for what it is.
If you’re looking for a fun novel, featuring lovable characters, a few laughs and a pinch of mystery, you can find it… In Good Company. 

The Time Garden (Adult Coloring Book)

the time gardenA coloring craze has splashed the world. No longer is this hobby confined to kindergarten classrooms. Now adults can enjoy the art and relaxation of coloring, too! (Without being reduced to a Sesame Street coloring book.)

The Time Garden is laid out as a story book. Intricate pictures show one little girl’s journey through the land of time. Daria Song’s artwork is absolutely beautiful. The amount of detail astonished me. Each page is stunning, from the tree blossoms on the front cover all the way to the starry back flap. Adult coloring is supposed to help you pause and relax, forcing you to slow down and focus on one tiny section at a time. The Time Garden would allow you to do this for hours. There are so many little nuances to color, there is no room for rushing. Even if you only work on a corner at a time, this book invites you to sit down, take your time, breathe and create.

I also love how elegant the pictures are. I lack in artistic ability, but coloring in one of Daria Song’s masterpieces instantly makes me feel creative.

The quality of the book itself is lovely. Each page is printed on thick, high-quality paper. I used colored pencils in mine, but if you wanted to use marker, the paper is sturdy enough to handle the ink. The dust jacket can be colored, too, and it unfolds to reveal a gorgeous constellation on the reverse side.

Since the adult coloring trend began, I’ve flipped through my fair share of these books. The Time Garden, though, is one of the most sophisticated, unique and visually pleasing that I have found. Order a copy for yourself, or one for a friend… Or both, and enjoy your own journey through The Time Garden. 

I received these books for free in exchange for my honest reviews. 

In case you missed them, here are links to the other books I reviewed in 2015:

Remnants by Lisa T. Bergren // A Friend in Me by Pamela Havey Lau // To Win Her Favor by Tamera Alexander // The Knot: Little Books of Big Wedding Ideas // The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

Now that I’ve tied up 2015’s loose book ends, I’m free to start my 2016 list! What have you read so far this year? What were your favorite books in 2015?

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Book Review: The Little Paris Bookshop

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I first came across the Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George on a list of must-read books for summer. The cover was stunning, and I adored the idea of a story set in a Parisian bookshop. I was about to order it, but then I had the chance to receive a review copy… So, here I am!

The story begins with an air of mystery, centered on the reserved Monsieur Perdu, proprietor of a little bookshop housed on a barge. The shop is called the Literary Apothecary, and Monsieur Perdu spends his days prescribing books for ailments of the heart. All the while, he holds his own heart shut, trying to forget how it was broken two decades ago.

Then a new neighbor, an unopened letter, and a best-selling author with writer’s block upset the bookseller’s predictable life. He hauls anchor on his bookshop barge and travels south, hoping to find the answers, peace and adventure that have so long evaded him.

The first thing I noticed about this book is the writing style. Each line is infused with poetry and soul. The pages are filled with poignant quotes, and I found myself wanting to read with a highlighter in hand. Monsieur Perdu describes one novel as “infused with enormous humanity,” and that seems the best summary of the Little Paris Bookshop as well.

At first glance, this is simply a story about books, but it delves so much deeper. This novel is a celebration of literature and life, of love and loss, and how each depends on the others for its true meaning. Perdu claims books are the only remedy for countless, undefined afflictions of the soul. As he diagnoses patrons and doles out paper cures, I found myself looking inward. I wondered which titles this bookseller might prescribe to me. While I read, I felt the profound words seeping into me… Tugging at my emotions, making my heart lift and dip. I expected this book to be one that changed me by the end.

Unfortunately, I didn’t reach the end. In order to explore the themes of love and loss, we’re taken on a tour of Perdu’s past… A past involving an affair that is fleshed out far too much for my taste. Initially, I skipped over these sections, but as the story progressed, they appeared with more frequency and detail. I started to dread picking up the book because I knew there’d be another indecent scene awaiting me. In the end, the beautiful writing, lovely setting, and deep characters weren’t enough to keep me. The story could have easily been told without those scenes. Instead, it was spoiled for me. And that right there is a tale of loss.

I give it 2 out of 5 stars, simply because of how well-written it was and because the concept was a good one. I would have dearly loved to rate it for more, but such is life and literature.

I received this book from the publisher for free, in exchange for my honest review. 

Adieu,

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Summer Reading Mission

Hello, Bookish friends!
How is your summer? I trust you’re getting to enjoy lots of spectacular stories!
What am I reading, you ask? Funny you should mention it. This summer, I’m taking part in the Fangirl Initiative’s Summer Reading Mission! I was delighted to put this challenge together, and I’m quite excited to share it here, albeit two weeks into the challenge. Oops.
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Anyway, the rules are simple: Read one book for each category below, until at least ten prompts are completed. If the mission is accomplished by August 30, there’s going to be a fancy certificate and bookmarks to download. Head over to the Fangirl Initiative to read the fully detailed post.
I shared part of my reading list in that original post, but since then, I’ve shuffled it around. I’m still not completely settled on this selection, but as of now, my summer reading plans are as follows:

Read a book…
  1. Written by an author with your first name (or the same first or last initial as you.)
    I’ll be reading Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, because not only is her name Sarah, she spells it with an H. Oh, and the book looks pretty awesome too.
  2. With a color in the title. I’ve already completed Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard this summer. You can read my review of it here. 
  3. That’s been sitting on your shelf for more than a year. I’m going to finally read Grave Consequences, the second book in Lisa Bergren’s Grand Tour series. I loved the first novel, Glamorous Illusions, and I’m shocked that I haven’t finished the other two books yet.
  4. That is historical fiction. I have a review copy of In Good Company by Jen Turano. It’s set in 1882, and just from the first few pages, I can tell I’m going to enjoy it.
  5. You picked for the cover. Another review copy is fitting into this spot- The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George. Maybe I picked it for the title as much as the cover, but it looks like such a touching, whimsical story and I can’t wait to get into it. (Although I have a few other books to finish beforehand.)Cover Collage 1
  6. That’s first in a series. I’m completely late to the party, just like I was with the Harry Potter series, but I’m going to read the Lightning Thief and start the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan.
  7. Involving time travel. Somehow, the only books I can think of featuring time travel are the River of Time novels by Lisa Bergren. And even though this post, 14 Reasons You Should Read the River of Time series, makes me want to reread them, I think I’ll be skipping this prompt for now. (Much as I miss my medieval Italy… And my favorite fictional guy.)
  8. Featuring a love triangle. I admit, love triangles can either be really entertaining or really annoying. From the back cover, I gather that there’s one in Defy by Sara Larson. Since I’m super interested in the rest of the story, it just works out for this challenge that there’s a love triangle, too.
  9. Set in the future. My current favorite futuristic books are the Remnants series, by Lisa Bergren. Although they’re dystopian, they put a fresh spin on the genre. I did a full review here. Since I technically finished these books in the spring, I’m not going to count them towards my summer reading. I’ll be reading Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson for this category instead.
  10. With more than 400 pages. I’m finishing the Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd for this category. I’m not crazy about it, but I’m too far and curious to quit now.
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  11. Narrated by a guy. I keep changing my mind about whether to read Hood by Stephen Lawhead, The Scorch Trials by James Dashner, or Eragon by Christopher Paolini… Or I could just continue reading the Percy Jackson series for this category. So many options.
  12. Retelling a fairy tale. I picked up a copy of the Captive Maiden by Melanie Dickerson for this prompt. It’s a retelling of Cinderella, and although Cinderella isn’t my favorite fairy tale, it’s a story I love nonetheless.
  13. That is a classic. I planned on reading Jane Austen’s final work, Persuasion, but since I’m currently reading Harper Lee’s “new” release, Go Set a Watchman, I’m going to list that one here. It didn’t fit anywhere else, but since I’m not going to give up reading, I want some credit. Technically, I don’t know if it counts as a classic yet, seeing as how it was just published… But by virtue of To Kill a Mockingbird and Harper Lee, I proclaim Go Set a Watchman an instant classic.
  14. Outside your usual favorite genres. I hardly ever read contemporary, and I also don’t read books with romance as the main plot. Since I’ve been seeing it everywhere, I checked out a copy of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han. I surprisingly enjoyed the first chapter, mainly for writing style and characterization. We’ll see what my thoughts are at the end.
  15. Recommended by a friend or fellow fangirl! There are too many books that fit this description. If I don’t read Eragon for prompt #11, I may fit it in here. Since the rules require I only read 10 books, though, I may not even get this far.

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Have you read any of these books? What’s on your summer reading list? If you need some ideas, why not jump in on this mission? 🙂

I’m off to read another chapter! (It would be kind of embarrassing to fail at the mission I assigned everyone else.)

Happy reading!

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Book Review: Remnants Series

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Dystopian. Fantasy. Action. Adventure. Romance. Intrigue. The Remnants series by Lisa T. Bergren delivers all of these things, and then some.

I’m quite a fan of Lisa’s other YA series, the River of Time. (There will be a post on that series coming up soon!) While I was suffering withdrawal from the River books, I discovered the Remnants series. I finished the second Remnants novel earlier this week, so I am once again facing the crisis of a book hangover.

To help me cope, I’m sharing my thoughts on the series. Besides letting me process my feelings, I’m hoping this post will draw you into the world of Remnants as well. After all, I need someone to discuss these stories with!

(Never fear, I’ve left out any spoilers.)

What is Remnants about, you ask? 

The Remnants are a small, sacred group with a massive destiny. They must save the world, rescuing what remains of humanity from the clutches of darkness and restoring faith in the Maker. Each Remnant has been uniquely gifted by the Maker, and provided with the protection of a knight, for such a time. Andriana is one of the chosen, and she has grown up training for her future alongside her knight, Ronan. But when the time comes for Andriana, Ronan, and the other Remnants to answer the Maker’s call… Nothing could have fully prepared them for the dangers ahead. Can they overcome the darkness and bring light back to the people of their lands? Or will the Remnants be extinguished before they can kindle a blaze?

There is far more to the story, of course, but I promised to avoid spoilers. Rather than sharing specific details, let’s discuss a few elements of the book.

Characters: 

There are some fantastic characters in this series. Andriana, the main protagonist, is strong but also deeply emotional. She exasperated me at times, but I also related a great deal to her. Ronan, her knight and oldest friend, is one of my favorites, with his blend of confidence and sensitivity. I was especially happy that he received his own POV in the second book, Season of Fire. The other Remnants, who serve as secondary characters, are diversely endearing. Bellona can be brusque but is also loyal and intelligent. Vidar, who for all his wit and teasing, is steady and kindhearted. Niero is brilliant yet mysterious; Killian is the skeptic but has a soft side, too, and Tressa manages to be mighty despite her gentle shyness. I also love the different relationship dynamics among the Remnants. There is romance budding between some; others experience friction; but they all share a deep bond of loyalty and kinship. Time and again, they risk their lives for one another. They all feel like real people, with struggles and desires. When it comes to protecting each other, though, they rise above all that. I could go on and on, but suffice it to say, if I had to fight to save the world, I would want this group alongside me.

Setting: 

The modern world is gone, and the divides between rich and poor are gaping. Scarcity abounds, yet a select handful of individuals have access to the inventions of a world long past. I think Lisa did a great job with the setting ofRemnants. I appreciated that it was rawer and more simplistic than the high-tech, automated places where dystopians are usually set. It felt realistic, and I especially liked how the various areas contrast each other. On the Remnants’ quest, we journey through deserts, a magnificent forest, and cities both corrupt and beautiful. While I wouldn’t want to live in this world, it was quite a visit.

Plot / Pacing: 

Much of the story is a quest. Perhaps it’s just me, but I sometimes have trouble tracking events during journeys. Overall, though, I didn’t have any problems with the plot of Remnants. It’s been tying together nicely, and I’m looking forward to seeing it come full circle in the final installment.

As with any series, there are some lulls. However, in both Season of Wonder and Season of Fire, I felt there was more action than relaxing. Lisa writes some killer battle scenes, and in several, you can feel the characters’ adrenaline pulsing through the pages. There are chase scenes, kidnappings, raids, escapes… Sometimes all within a few chapters! Remnants made me want to begin training immediately, should I ever need to fight off the armies of an unjust empire.

Final Thoughts: 

Join the Remnants cause! I genuinely enjoyed these stories, and I was pleasantly surprised to find them inspiring me in my everyday life. Not to take down tyrannical governments (okay, maybe, but that’s not the point.) These books present a solid allegory for spiritual matters, but it isn’t done in a way that’s stifling or unnatural. The supernatural aspect of the story weaves in seamlessly. Unlike some novels by Christian authors, Remnants doesn’t feel preachy. It’s simply encouraging, without taking anything from the excitement levels. It was also one of those books that prompted me to step into the characters’ shoes, to learn as I walked alongside them. So read the first two novels, Season of Wonder and Season of Fire, then join me in suffering waiting for the final installment, Season of Glory. It’s going to be an unforgettable journey! As the Remnants would say, Welcome to the call, sisters and brothers!

I hope you enjoyed this review, and that you’re inspired to pick up the Remnants series if you haven’t yet done so! I’ll be sharing more book reviews in the near future. I’m still experimenting with the format, but I had almost as much fun writing about this series as I did reading it.

My review was first posted on The Fangirl Initiative, an awesome blog featuring all things nerdilicious. Check out the blog, and my original review, here!

***I received Remnants: Seasons of Fire from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Happy reading!

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