Excerpt and Book Review: By A Charm and A Curse by Jamie Questell

Excerpt and Book Review: By A Charm and A Curse by Jamie QuestellBy a Charm and a Curse by Jaime Questell
Published by Entangled: Teen on February 6th 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 300
Goodreads
four-stars

Le Grand’s Carnival Fantastic isn’t like other traveling circuses. It’s bound by a charm, held together by a centuries-old curse, that protects its members from ever growing older or getting hurt. Emmaline King is drawn to the circus like a moth to a flame…and unwittingly recruited into its folds by a mysterious teen boy whose kiss is as cold as ice.

Forced to travel through Texas as the new Girl in the Box, Emmaline is completely trapped. Breaking the curse seems like her only chance at freedom, but with no curse, there’s no charm, either—dooming everyone who calls the Carnival Fantastic home. Including the boy she’s afraid she’s falling for.

Everything—including his life—could end with just one kiss.

By A Charm and A Curse welcomes you to Carnival Fantastic, where everything “razzles and dazzles” but not everything, or everyone should be trusted.  This should have been the warning on the ticket Emmaline King bought as she and her friend Jules arrive to the carnival. However, even if it was, Emmaline is far too excited about the carnival to pay warnings much notice.  Her mom abandons Emmaline and her brothers with her dad for a year while she goes off on an thrilling investigation in Guatemala. At least that is how it seems to Emmaline, now stuck in boring Claremore, Oklahoma where nothing ever happens.

Soon after entering the carnival Emmaline is tricked by a strange boy and ends up inheriting his curse. The curse is what keeps the carnival “charmed” along with everyone in it. No one ages, no one gets hurt, but the price to pay is that the curse has to live inside a living being.

This person becomes the “Boy or Girl in the Box”, which is basically a human-like puppet that tells fortunes during the carnival’s open hours.  Now Emmaline must come to grasps with her new life, and what she will have to do if she ever wishes to return to her family and live a normal life.

MY REVIEW:

I love circuses, and carnivals, I always have. There is something whimsy, exciting and a little bit dangerous about them. Which is why I really enjoyed reading By A Charm and a Curse. Jamie Questell creates a fantastic setting with everything one could want in a traveling carnival. Her characters are vibrant and all have a very distinctive voice. Though I did want more back story on a few of the characters, especially Sidney.

The concept of the “Boy/Girl in the box” reminded me of those “Zoltar” fortune telling machines seen in the movie BIG or many arcades. I think they are a bit creepy, but it never keeps me away from seeking my fortune.  I loved this whole concept. It is a tragic thing to end up a Boy or Girl in the box. But even more tragic is to have the responsibility and guilt of tricking someone to take your place.

The story alternates between the POV of Emmaline and Ben. This works out well as we get to see how they each view the carnival and Emma’s situation differently. Eventually Emma and Ben have a love connection, and I am very happy to say that it wasn’t INSTA-LOVE. I really applaud the author for taking her time with their relationship and allowing it room and space to develop.

The main “MAGIC” in this book is the curse and charm that keeps the carnival working. I know this was an issue for some readers, but not for me. From the vivid world building to the colorful characters I felt completely submerged into Carnival Fantastic. As for the ending  I guessed it early on, but I credit that to all the YA reading I do.

By a Charm and a Curse is a fast, fun and entertaining read. I highly recommend it if you are looking for something different and whimsy in the genre of YA fantasy. Readers who like me love circus-y books and carnivals will revel in the world Jamie Questell creates in her book.

 Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for providing me with an E-ARC of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Excerpt from By a Charm and a Curse:

Leslie smiles at the girl with a mixture of pride and tentative hope. “It took us a few days to get Sidney set up somewhere else, and I’m sorry about that. But this wagon belongs to the occupant of the box.” Leslie strokes the side of the ladder that leads to the door. “What you’re going through is terrible, we know it is, though we can never truly understand. It’s a small comfort, but we want you to have a place that’s just your own, a place that you can use to escape.”

A weak, wobbly smile lifts the corners of the girl’s mouth as her gaze roves over the outside of the wagon, a shadow of the smile I saw the other night, when she was with her friend. I wonder what it would take to get her to smile for real.

“What about Sidney?”

“Sidney can make do.” Leslie’s smile broadens into a grin. “Have you seen the way he’s been eating? I wouldn’t be surprised to see him waddle out of the cook shack one of these mornings like Templeton the Rat.” She dangles a small copper key from the end of a length of faded red ribbon. “It’s like I said—the carnival owes the person in the box. This is the least we can do for you in return.”

The girl’s hand shakes as she reaches for the key, and she wraps her slender fingers around it tightly, as though she’s afraid of dropping it. I lose sight of her as she steps inside, and all I can do now is hope she likes the wagon.

I turn to head home and feel the sickening lurch as my foot lands in a slick patch of mud and whips out from beneath me. I throw out my arm. A flash of white-hot pain flares through my hand, but I manage to keep my footing. I step out of the mud that had nearly sent me sprawling on my ass, unsure as to how I even missed it in the first place. Then my hand begins to throb.

A gash runs diagonally across my palm. Blood wells from the wound, filling my cupped hand. The pain sets in, a deep pulsing starting in my palm and radiating up my arm. I glance over at the trailer and see a splash of red smeared along a sharp flap of metal. I must have sliced my hand on that as I tried to grab onto something to keep from slipping.

Falling on carnival grounds doesn’t happen; the charm sees to that. But my bloodied hand begs to differ.

 

About By a Charm and a Curse:

Le Grand’s Carnival Fantastic isn’t like other traveling circuses. It’s bound by a charm, held together by a centuries-old curse, that protects its members from ever growing older or getting hurt. Emmaline King is drawn to the circus like a moth to a flame…and unwittingly recruited into its folds by a mysterious teen boy whose kiss is as cold as ice.

Forced to travel through Texas as the new Girl in the Box, Emmaline is completely trapped. Breaking the curse seems like her only chance at freedom, but with no curse, there’s no charm, either—dooming everyone who calls the Carnival Fantastic home. Including the boy she’s afraid she’s falling for.

Everything—including his life—could end with just one kiss.

 

Author Blurbs:

STARRED REVIEW: “A dark idea for a YA story, executed deftly and with feeling.”  Kirkus Reviews

“A real page-turner! I was so charmed by this book filled with mystery and magical mayhem that I wasn’t able to put it down until the end.”Brenda Drake, New York Times bestselling author

“What a ride! From the very first page, By a Charm and a Curse took me on a roller coaster of emotionsand I never wanted to get off!” Pintip Dunn, New York Times bestselling author

 

Buylinks: https://entangledpublishing.com/by-a-charm-and-a-curse.html

 

About Jaime Questell:

Jaime Questell is a writer and graphic designer from Houston, Texas. She has also been a bookseller, a professional knitter, a semi-professional baker, and an administrative assistant. None of these jobs involved wrangling corgis, which is quite sad. She lives in the ‘burbs with her husband, children, and pets.

 

Author Links:

Author Website: jaimequestell.com

Author Twitter: @jaimequestell

Author Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jaimequestell/

Author Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15396319.Jaime_Questell

Newsletter: http://jaimequestell.com/events/

 

 

four-stars

Book Review and Vintage Valentine Mood Board for LOVE by Matt De La Pena and Illustrated by Loren Long

Book Review and Vintage Valentine Mood Board for LOVE by Matt De La Pena and Illustrated by Loren LongLove by Matt de la Pena, Loren Long
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers on January 9th 2018
Pages: 40
Goodreads
five-stars


From Newbery Medal-winning author Matt de la Peña and bestselling illustrator Loren Long comes a story about the strongest bond there is and the diverse and powerful ways it connects us all.
"In the beginning there is light and two wide-eyed figures standing near the foot of your bed and the sound of their voices is love....A cab driver plays love softly on his radiowhile you bounce in back with the bumps of the city and everything smells new, and it smells like life."

In this heartfelt celebration of love, Matt de la Peña and illustrator Loren Long depict the many ways we experience this universal bond, which carries us from the day we are born throughout the years of our childhood and beyond. With a lyrical text that's soothing and inspiring, this tender tale is a needed comfort and a new classic that will resonate with readers of every age.

Welcome to the LOVE blog tour to celebrate the release of LOVE by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Loren Long. Today is my turn to share my thoughts on this  beautifully crafted and magnificently illustrated book that captures the epitome and complexities of the sentiment.

For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated by old fashioned Valentines, and I thought it would be a fun to put together mood board of some of my favorite cards in celebration of LOVE. I am also attaching at the bottom, one of my favorite songs by Sarah Bareilles (“Bottle it Up”) because I think it captures  some of the book’s ideas quite well too.

MY REVIEW: 

In Love we are reminded of the sentiment’s  many faces, and that it comes in many forms. Though there are times  we suffer pain, there are also times of joy and laughter. Love shows us that it can be found in the simplest of moments, or even in the darkest ones.

The diverse and vivid illustrations perfectly showcase and illuminate Matt’s words. Love leads the reader through a cascade of emotions from reliving childhood glee, the sensation of wonder, the grief of loss, the understanding that comes with growing up, and the enchantment of being loved. Matt de la Peña’s tender words will touch your heart and that is LOVE.

 

One of the most touching pages (to me at least), above, reads:

“And in time you learn to recognize a love overlooked. A love that wakes at dawn and rides to work on the bus. A slice of burned toast that tastes like love.”

This page brought tears to my eyes, as I started to think about all the times my aunt would get up at the crack of down to head to work, in order to provide for me and my cousin. Or all the sacrifices my grandmother made for my wellbeing. It truly touched me.

LOVE is a glorious celebration of “love” and will appeal to all ages. I absolutely LOVED reading it and hope it will find a place in your heart too.

 

Favorite Quote: “And it’s love in the rustling leaves of gnarled trees line behind the flower fields”

 

 

 

AUTHOR BIO 

Matt de la Peña is the author of Last Stop on Market Street, which won the Newbery Medal and was chosen for a Caldecott Honor. He is also the author the award-winning picture book A Nation’s Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis and six critically acclaimed young adult novels. Matt teaches creative writing and visits schools and colleges throughout the country. Matt lives in Brooklyn,

 

 

ILLUSTRATOR BIO

Illustrator Bio: Loren Long is the author and illustrator of the New York Times bestselling Otis series. He’s also the illustrator of the #1 New York Times bestseller Of Thee I Sing by Barack Obama, as well as the re-illustrated, #1 New York Times bestseller The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper. He lives near Cincinnati with his wife, two sons, and two Weimaraners.

 

 

 

Thank you to the publisher for providing me with a finished copy in return for an honest review.

 

FOLLOW THE TOUR

WEEK ONE

January 8 – Margie’s Must Reads – Mood Board

January 9 – DoodleMom’s Homeschooling Life – Review and Review and Creative (lesson plan/unit study)

January 10 – The Keepers of the Books – What Love Means to different age groups

January 11 – The Children’s Book Reviews – Creative

January 12 – Books4yourkids – Creative

 

 

WEEK TWO

January 15 – Happily Ever Elephants – Review + Kids quotes on what love is to them.

January 16 – Crayon Freckles – Creative Learning Activity

January 17 – My Book Bloom – Review and Craft

January 18 – My Little Poppies – Activity

January 19 – All Done Monkey – Lesson plan or activity.

 

 

WEEK THREE

January 22 – Mundie Moms – Ask 7th graders what they think of the definition of “love”

January 23 – Wandering Bark Books – Spotlight

January 24 – Little Lit Book Series – Arts and Crafts Post

January 25 – Between the Reads – Review AND exploring what love means in today’s society and what it means to me

January 26 – The Plot Bunny – Old Valentine’s Mood Board

 

 

WEEK FOUR

January 29 – Just Commonly – “Love is” Collage

January 30 – Inspiration Laboratories – Artwork demonstrating love

 

 

five-stars

Book Review: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

Book Review: The Hazel Wood by Melissa AlbertThe Hazel Wood (The Hazel Wood, #1) by Melissa Albert
Published by Flatiron Books on January 30th 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 368
Goodreads

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother's stories are set. Alice's only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother's tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

Ever read something so delightfully dark, strange and magical that you couldn’t help but feel a bit guilty you loved it so much, even with all the bloody parts? Though I confess I didn’t feel one bit guilty about loving all the gritty bloody parts of The Hazel Wood. My little black heart relished in all its grisly glory.

It’s about time we finally have a fairy tale that isn’t all unicorns and rainbows. That doesn’t necessarily end in “happily ever after” or with anyone being “saved”.  A fairy tale that is reminiscent of the long forgotten Grimm tales. Before they were all “Disney-fied” with a whoosh of a wand by a benevolent fairy god mother. Well friends, The Hazel Wood is the book for you!

Welcome to The Hazel Wood, where nothing is what is seems. Alice is enthralled with her elusive grandmother Althea Proserpine, the writer of an infamous collection of dark fairy tales called Tales from the Hinterland. Ella (Alice’s mom) is determined to keep Alice away from her grandmother or stepping foot in The Hazel Wood, Althea’s enigamous estate. Yet this never deters Alice from collecting bits of news story on her grandmother whenever she can get her hands on it.

Ella keeps them on the run; drifting from place to place trying to avoid the “bad luck” she is so adamant is always following them.  Now that Alice is older, she can’t help but wonder if all this moving has anything to do with her grandmother and the fairy tale world she created.  Soon enough Alice gets her answers when a note appears stating that her grandmother is dead, and soon after Ella goes missing.

 

Alone for the first time, Alice turns to the only person she feels can help her, a school mate named Ellery Finch who happens to be an uber-fan of Althea’s book.

Together they set off to find Ella, who Alice is convinced (due to mysterious  and grim clues left for her), has been snatched away to The Hazel Wood by the characters of The Hinterland.  Little does Alice realize how treacherous and bloody their journey is about to become.

This is not an Alice in Wonderland retelling. I’ve heard a few readers mentioning this, and though I found some similarities, I allotted that to how my own mind works.

Although, while reading I did keep thinking about how Ellery Finch reminded me of the White Rabbit leading an unknowing Alice down the void of the rabbit hole and straight into the hands of a variety of fairy tale characters. While not all of them are “mad” or “bloodthirsty” the possibilities for peril are always there.

I thought Twice-Killed Katherine (one of my favorites) reminded me of The Queen of Hearts, but instead of chopping off heads she just sucks you dry of your vitality and life. Even the Spinner could be seen as a combination of the mischievous Cheshire cat and the wise yet confusing smoking Caterpillar.

Then there is the stepping through “portals” from the mundane “reality” into the wondrous and ravenous world of the Hinterland.  Which is a bit like stepping “through the looking glass” but I also found it very similar to Belle crossing the invisible barrier in the forest that allowed her to discover the Beast’s castle. Or even hiding in a wardrobe and pushing so far in that you end up in Narnia.

The moment Alice finally finds and enters The Hazel Wood/The Hinterland is one of my favorite scenes from the book. I love how the author captured this moment, and made it her own.

I really liked Alice, though I could see where her “icy-ness” could rub some readers the wrong way. However before judging her too harshly keep in mind Alice has been through a lot. She has no stable home or friendships. She’s a teenager with lots of unanswered questions. To me, the hidden rage just below her surface is expected and what made her “real”.  I liked her fierceness, intelligence and independent nature. I also love all her book and pop culture references through out the story.

Another favorite part of The Hazel Wood were the tidbits and peaks of the stories from Tales of the Hinterland. These strange, ominous and creepy tales NEED to be a actual book one day.  The “stories” /characters from the Hinterland were intriguing and I really hope we get to find out more about them.  (PRETTY PLEASE MELISSA!!!)

For readers who want a bit of a “trigger warning” this book does contain unsettling, macabre and graphic violence. When I said earlier that this story is dark, I was not joking. No rainbows, sparkles, sunshine or pretty ponies. Okay? Enter at your own risk (::whispers creepily:: Do it….the dark side has cookies…or at least some type of booze/food at the pub found deep in the Hinterland where the “stories” hangout….).

The Hazel Wood has kept me mesmerized for almost a year now. I found the author’s take on the ever changing genre of fairy tales to be refreshing and brilliant. Melissa Albert crafts a fascinating tale filled with complex stories within a story that is haunting, unique and unforgettable.

If you want to find yourself lost in a magical moon-lit forest filled with “stories” that can lure you to your bloody end or all sorts of other mayhem,  enter The Hazel Wood. You won’t regret it.  I highly recommend it, and rate it 5 stars+.

UPDATE: THERE WILL BE MORE BOOKS!!!! The Hazel Wood will have a  second book and Tales from the Hinterland will also be a book!!! Every part of my  soul was dancing with happiness when I heard this news.

I can’t wait to return to this bewitching world in 2019 and 2020 when Albert will be releasing book 2 and Tales from the Hinterland.

A very special THANK YOU to Flatiron Books (Thanks Sarah!!!) for providing me with an ARC of The Hazel Wood in return for an honest review. As well as Melissa Albert for writing this delightfully wicked debut. 

 

Middle Grade Book Review: The World’s Greatest Adventure Machine by Frank L. Cole

Middle Grade Book Review: The World’s Greatest Adventure Machine by Frank L. ColeThe World's Greatest Adventure Machine by Frank L. Cole
Published by Delacorte Press on August 8th 2017
Genres: Adventure, Fantasy, Middle Grade
Pages: 320
Goodreads
four-stars

An adventure novel about four lucky kids and a mysterious, but thrilling ride for fans of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Jurassic Park! CastleCorp and the famous Castleton brothers are unveiling the World's Greatest Adventure Machine! The roller coaster is an experience like no other, and four lucky kids have won the chance to be the first to ride it. There's Trevor, whose latest stunt got him in trouble at school again. There's Devin, whose father is pushing him to be the next Internet sensation. Nika's wealthy grandfather isn't too pleased about her participation. And Cameron, he'll be the first to tell you, is a certified genius. The whole world is watching. But as the kids set off on their journey, they begin to realize that there is perhaps more to their fellow contest winners than meets the eye. And the Adventure Machine? It might just have a mind of its own. Join the contestants on their wild ride if you dare. Your adventure starts now!

The World’s Greatest Adventure Machine is about to launch, and four lucky kids have won the right to ride on the maiden voyage. Our four riders are all very different from one another. Trevor is the troublemaker/mischievous one. Nika is super rich, and very guarded (with good reason). Cameron is as smart as they come, and Devin is a social media star.

One of the things I liked best about the story was the uniqueness of each character. As you read more about them, you can’t help but want to know more. It was very interesting to see how they each handled their own struggles and secrets. Even more so, how they work together and discover more about themselves as they share the experiences on the ride.

As the adventure unfolds, each of the four winners has their first impressions of their fellow participants. However, these impressions are all based on their exterior and will soon change. This important message is very well executed by the author, as well as the concept of working as a team. It is so important to teach our young readers that first impressions aren’t always right. As well as teaching them the importance of teamwork and collaboration.

The pace of The World’s Greatest Adventure Machine is fast and wild. Every moment was filled with something exciting, entertaining and unexpected. As the reader, you will be constantly be guessing what will happen next. Not to mention what is real, or virtual. Middle graders are sure to enjoy all the twists and turns in this story, which will keep them turning the pages.

Along with great humor, engaging characters and a fun, fast paced tone The World’s Greatest Adventure Machine is unforgettable! Middle grade readers are sure to love the exciting plot and adventures within the pages. There is something for everyone from mystery, humor, and thrills. It will leave you wishing you could ride The World’s Greatest Adventure Machine too.

 

*Thank you to Delacorte Press for providing me with a copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review.*

four-stars

Blog Tour: Gertie Milk and the Keeper of Lost Things by Simon Van Booy : Review & Playlist

Genres: Adventure, Fantasy, Middle Grade
Goodreads
four-stars

Welcome to the blog tour for Gertie Milk and The Keeper of Lost Things by Simon Van Booy. Today is my stop of the tour and I will be sharing with you my review, along with a playlist inspired by the adventures Gertie goes on throughout the book.  Make sure to check out the rest of the tour stops too for other fun content.

 

Gertie Milk and The Keeper of Lost Things

BY: Simon Van Booy

PUBLISHER: Razorbill

PUB DATE: OCT 3rd, 2017

AMAZON|GOODREADS

 

MY RATING: 4 Stars

 

 

 

Synopsis

This enchanting middle-grade adventure follows twelve-year-old Gertie Milk, who washes up on the island of Skuldark, and finds that all of her memories are gone. Home to helpful Slug Lamps, delicious moonberries, and a ferocious Guard Worm, the island is full of oddities, including a cozy cottage containing artifacts from every corner of history.

It is there that Gertie discovers she has been chosen as the next Keeper of Lost Things, tasked with the mission of returning objects to history’s most important figures right when they need them most. With the help of a time machine disguised as a vintage sports car and the guidance of her fellow Keeper, Kolt, Gertie dodges an elephant army in ancient Alexandria, crashes a 1920s flapper party, and battles a ruthless Zhou Dynasty king.

But soon, Gertie encounters an enemy that threatens everything the Keepers stand for: The Losers, villains who don’t want to keep order but destroy it. Now, Gertie must uncover the truth of her own past if she wants to stop the Losers and set history back in place.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Simon Van Booy is the best-selling author of seven books of fiction, and three anthologies of philosophy. He has written for the New York Times, the Financial Times, NPR, and the BBC. Simon enjoys building robots, model airplanes, and off-road vehicles—which he likes to crash. He has an impressive umbrella collection, a Bowler hat, and carries a green thermos of tea everywhere. His books have been translated into many languages. In 2013, he founded Writers for Children, a project which helps young people build confidence in their literary abilities through annual awards. Raised in rural Wales and England, Simon currently lives between Brooklyn and Miami with his wife, daughter, Robot Rabbit Boy, and a fully-grown sheep.


 

MY REVIEW:

Gertie Milk and the Keep of Lost Things is a charming and whimsical new middle grade book by Simon Van Booy. Within its pages we are introduced to an array of interesting characters, thrilling adventures and the enigmatic world of the Lost Things.

Gertie wakes up on the island of lost things with no memory of who she is, or where she comes from. Gertie at first is afraid, but soon she meets Kolt who tells her that she is now a Keeper of Lost Things. Kolt tells Gertie that Keepers are responsible for returning random lost objects to important people throughout history.

As Kolt fills Gertie in on her new responsibilities, he takes her for a tour of all the rooms in cabin that hold a variety of lost objects. Kolt explains that they do not get to choose where they go, but the B.D.B.U (a magical book) will “summon” them and give them the details once it is time to go return something.

This ultimately leads to Gertie and Kolt having a variety of wild and fun adventures as they work to keep order throughout history. However, there is a group of people who would like nothing better than to cause chaos in history. These are the Losers, and they will do anything to keep Gertie, Kolt or any Keeper from fulfilling their duties.

Gertie Milk and The Keeper of Lost Things is a delight to read. I loved the concept of how one simple lost object has the power to alter the outcome of history. Along with the B.D.B.U my most favorite thing about the world of Lost Things is The Sock Drawer. The Sock Drawer is a huge room filled with lost clothing from throughout time (basically a costumer’s dream closet).

Along with the world building the author also does a great job of making the story approachable and fun. It flows really nicely, and constantly throws new and fascinating things at the reader to keep them engaged.

I like that the story advocates a positive message about friendship, loyalty and finding yourself even when you feel lost and confused. Gertie barely knows anything about herself, but she doesn’t let that hold her down. Instead, she moves forward and handles her struggles beautifully.

Gertie Milk and The Keeper of Lost Things is an imaginative, educational and fun read. Readers of all ages will find something to love about this story, and the characters. I am looking forward to reading more about Gertie’s adventures and hope more books are on the way.

 

MY PLAYLIST:

 

 

four-stars