You know how sometimes you're reading a book (or watching a movie) and you notice that one of the characters is about to do something incredibly stupid and all you want to do is reach into the pages (or into the screen) and shake some common sense into them? A Living Nightmare, the first book in the Cirque du Freak series by Darren Shan, is a series of random circumstances where the narrator does just that, hereby digging himself deeper and deeper. You know it's not going to end well.
Here we meet a young Darren Shan recounting supposedly "true" events of his misspent youth. He has an unhealthy obsession with spiders and is a bit of a brat to his parents and teachers. He and his best friend score tickets to a show promising (and delivering) real, live "freaks," one of which happens to be a vampire with a deadly spider trained to perform parlour tricks. While his bestie can only think of becoming a vampire himself (a request which is refused), Darren wants the spider. He steals the creature, which bites his friend, and then is actually surprised when the vampire comes back looking for his eight-legged pet. You know it's not going to end well. And...well, it doesn't.
With A Living Nightmare, Shan seems to be trying a little too hard to be scary/gross/macabre. There are many instances where horrific things are described in detail. Unfortunately, the book reads more like a grocery/wish list of things the author would like to have in the story. It doesn't put the reader INTO the story and, therefore, is not scary/gross/macabre. Characters are unlikable and one-dimensional, dialogue is stilted, and plot is shallow and predictable. Overall, the book fails to deliver. Not recommended.
If you seek a truly creepy experience, try books by Dan Poblocki, Daniel Kraus' Rotters or Neil Gaiman's Coraline.--AJB