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A Living Nightmare (Cirque Du Freak Series #1)

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Overview

Darren Shan and his best friend, Steve, get tickets to the Cirque Du Freak, a wonderfully gothic freak show featuring weird, frightening half human/half animals who interact terrifyingly with the audience. In the midst of the excitement, true terror raises its head when Steve recognizes that one of the performers-- Mr. Crepsley-- is a vampire!

Stever remains after the show finishes to confront the vampire-- but his motives are surprising! In the shadows of a crumbling theater, a...

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A Living Nightmare (Cirque Du Freak Series #1)

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Overview

Darren Shan and his best friend, Steve, get tickets to the Cirque Du Freak, a wonderfully gothic freak show featuring weird, frightening half human/half animals who interact terrifyingly with the audience. In the midst of the excitement, true terror raises its head when Steve recognizes that one of the performers-- Mr. Crepsley-- is a vampire!

Stever remains after the show finishes to confront the vampire-- but his motives are surprising! In the shadows of a crumbling theater, a horrified Darren eavesdrops on his friend and the vampire, and is witness to a monstrous, disturbing plea. As if by destiny, Darren is pulled to Mr. Crepsley and what follows is his forrifying descent into the dark and bloody world of vampires.

This is Darren's story.

Two boys who are best friends visit an illegal freak show, where an encounter with a vampire and a deadly spider forces them to make life-changing choices.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
"I loved being scared when I was little." Those are the words of Darren Shan, the young, adventurous narrator and author of Cirque Du Freak, and I understand him very well. Just like him, I grew up loving comic book monsters and campfire tales that sent shivers down my spine. Now I'm all grown up and still love being scared. Ever read a book that was so spellbinding it kept you hooked until the wee hours of night? Yes, they all promise that. But this is the real thing. For Shan's "true" tale is such frightful fun, I found myself reading the whole book in one sitting.

Darren Shan is like any other curious schoolboy who loves to hang out with his friends and read Spawn comics. He also has a little fixation with spiders. One of those insects graces the mysterious pamphlet that his friend Alan steals from the pocket of his big brother's pants. The pamphlet is an advertisement for a strange circus of freaks that is currently playing in their town. Darren and his three buddies -- Alan, Tommy and Darren's best friend, Steve -- are instantly smitten with the idea of attending. They pool their money and send Steve to get three tickets, but they soon find out they can only buy two. They draw straws, and Darren and Steve find themselves the lucky ones.

Finally, at night, they go to a decrepit old theater to witness the circus. What they see and what they get themselves into is too scary (and entertaining) to reveal here. There's also a lot of humor sprinkled throughout. Each chapter seamlessly leads from one dark room into another, introducing us to a supernatural world populated by a really cool cast of characters. (J. Mojica)

Publishers Weekly
The scenario is compelling, and the author mines the exploitative history of early 20th century sideshows to create an artfully macabre cirque du freak.
VOYA
...sure to start some great urban legends...
Publishers Weekly
A boy sneaks out to an illicit freak show, and his life becomes entangled with a vampire spider-wrangler. "The author mines the exploitative history of early 20th-century sideshows to create an artfully macabre `Cirque du Freak,' " wrote PW. Ages 10-up. (June) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
With strong sales overseas and a movie deal in the works, book one in The Saga of Darren Shan series is poised to capture a wide audience of series horror readers. After a rather slow buildup, a boy with the same name as the author sneaks out with best friend Steve to an illicit freak show, and his life becomes entangled with a vampire spider-wrangler, Mr. Crepsley. "This is a true story," writes Shan. "In real life, bad things happen. People die. Fights are lost. Evil often wins." The scenario is compelling, and the author mines the exploitative history of early 20th-century sideshows to create an artfully macabre "Cirque du Freak." But Darren's actions are often undermotivated: "I can't explain why Madam Octa [the spider] meant so much to me, or why I was placing my life in such danger to have her. Looking back, I'm no longer sure what drove me on." Also his intermittent attraction to and repulsion by the vampire is never fully explored. His behavior may be explained in the sequel, The Vampire's Assistant (due in Sept.), but the open ending leaves so many loose ends that readers may leave more frustrated than intrigued, especially since the characters' wooden dialogue drains them of personality ("I'm upset," says Steve. "It hurt, what Mr. Crepsley said, and you ignoring me at school... If you break up our friendship, I don't know what I'll do"). Readers interested in boys becoming vampires would be better served by M.T. Anderson's Thirsty and those fascinated with freaks by Iain Lawrence's Ghost Boy. Ages 10-up. (Apr.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
Wasting no time in setting a tone of spine-tingling horror, Darren Shan tells his readers right at the beginning, "This is a true story." Darren and his best friend, Steve, secretly buy tickets for an illegal freak show. They are spellbound at the fascinating performances of the Wolfman, Rhamus Twobellies and Alexander Ribs. But nothing can match the amazing feats of Mr. Crepsley and his deadly spider, Madam Octa. Steve recognizes the man from the cover of one of his horror books—Mr. Crepsley is a vampire. Darren's envy of the spider prompts him to make a foolish attempt at thievery. And when Steve lies near death, the victim of a lethal spider bite, Darren's only chance to save him drives him to a terrifying decision—to become the vampire's assistant. The author's choice of using a "mock-umentary" style is a brilliant one. Rather than the usual frights associated with the horror genre, the reader is further addled by the sense of reality when Darren falls into a nightmare of vampirish proportions. Readers will be howling for the sequel (due September, 2001) to this bone-chilling novel. 2001, Little Brown, $15.95. Ages 12 up. Reviewer: Christopher Moning
VOYA
Life seems ordinary until the day Darren and his friends come across a flyer advertising a freak show that is coming to their neighborhood. Despite warnings from parents and friends, the boys make plans to attend Cirque du Freak. In the depths of a spooky old house, Darren witnesses acts that astound and horrify him. He is entranced by the performance of Mr. Crepsley and his deadly venomous spider, Madame Octa. By the end of the show, Darren knows he must possess this creature. He plans to steal the spider, but the theft pits Darren against a terrible opponent—Mr. Crepsley is a vampire. Somehow Darren manages to pull off the robbery. When Madame Octa injects her venom into a friend, Darren must turn to Crepsley for assistance. As punishment for his thievery, Darren is forced to pledge himself as Crepsley's servant. The stunning art work on the cover along with an enthusiastic blurb by J. K. Rowling are sure to guarantee that this book flies off the shelves. Short chapters make it a logical choice for reading aloud as well. Reluctant readers and fans of shows such as Buffy andAngel are the perfect targets for this first installment in what is indicated to be a series titled The Saga of Darren Shan. Careful readers will note that the name of the main character and that of the author are identical. This wry twist is sure to start some great urban legends about this vampire story and its origins. VOYA CODES: 4Q 5P M (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Every YA (who reads) was dying to read it yesterday; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8). 2001, Little Brown, 272p, . Ages 12 to 14. Reviewer: Teri Lesesne SOURCE: VOYA, April 2001 (Vol. 24, No.1)
School Library Journal
Gr 4-8-In his introduction, 12-year-old Darren claims that this is a true story, though the names have been changed and the country (obviously England) kept secret. When a bizarre-sounding freak show comes to town, he and his friend Steve sneak out to attend, and Steve recognizes one of the performers-as a centuries-old vampire. Darren decides he must steal the vampire's performing, poisonous spider. The theft is successful, and he learns to control Madam Octa with a combination of flute music and ESP-until she bites Steve. Darren must then sell himself into vampire slavery to get the cure to the spider's poison. This volume is neither as well written nor as compulsively readable as the "Harry Potter" books (Scholastic), though surely J. K. Rowling's endorsement on the cover will win it a few fans. Most of the characters aren't developed much beyond their names and a brief description. The slowness of the plot in the beginning might turn some readers off, but once the supernatural enters, they will be hooked. The fun here is in the details and in the uniqueness of the non-evil vampire monster. Several volumes of the series are already out in England, and the movie rights have already been purchased, ensuring that this title and probably its sequels will be in demand.-Timothy Capehart, Leominster Public Library, MA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316605106
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
  • Publication date: 6/1/2002
  • Series: Cirque Du Freak Series , #1
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 34,291
  • Age range: 12 - 14 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.77 (d)

Meet the Author

Darren Shan
Darren Shan is the New York Times bestselling author of Cirque Du Freak and The Demonata, whose novels have sold over 15 million copies worldwide. Darren lives in Ireland, where he writes and collects art, comics, and film.
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Read an Excerpt

Introduction

I've always been fascinated by spiders. I used to collect them when I was younger. I'd spend hours rooting through the dusty old shed at the bottom of our garden, hunting the cobwebs for lurking eight-legged predators. When I found one, I'd bring it in and let it loose in my bedroom.

It used to drive my mom crazy!

Usually, the spider would slip away after no more than a day or two, never to be seen again, but sometimes they hung around longer. I had one who made a cobweb above my bed and stood guard for almost a month. Going to sleep, I used to imagine the spider creeping down, crawling into my mouth, sliding down my throat, and laying loads of eggs in my belly. The baby spiders would hatch after a while and eat me alive, from the inside out.

I loved being scared when I was little.

When I was nine, my mom and dad gave me a small tarantula. It wasn't poisonous or very big, but it was the greatest gift I'd ever received. I played with that spider almost every waking hour of the day. Gave it all sorts of treats: flies and cockroaches and tiny worms. Spoiled it rotten.

Then, one day, I did something stupid. I'd been watching a cartoon in which one of the characters was sucked up by a vacuum cleaner. No harm came to him. He squeezed out of the bag, dusty and dirty and mad as hell. It was very funny.

So funny, I tried it myself. With the tarantula.

Needless to say, things didn't happen quite like they did in the cartoon. The spider was ripped to pieces. I cried a lot, but it was too late for tears. My pet was dead, it was my fault, and there was nothing I could do about it.

My parents practically hollered the roof down when they found out what I'd done -- the tarantula had cost quite a lot of money. They said I was irresponsible, and from that day on they never again let me have a pet, not even an ordinary garden spider.

I started with that tale from the past for two reasons. One will become obvious as this book unfolds. The other reason is:

This is a true story.

I don't expect you to believe me -- I wouldn't believe it myself if I hadn't lived it -- but it is. Everything I describe in this book happened, just as I tell it.

The thing about real life is, when you do something stupid, it normally costs you. In books, the heroes can make as many mistakes as they like. It doesn't matter what they do, because everything works out in the end. They'll beat the bad guys and put things right and everything ends up cool.

In real life, vacuum cleaners kill spiders. If you cross a busy road without looking, you get whacked by a car. If you fall out of a tree, you break some bones.

Real life's nasty. It's cruel. It doesn't care about heroes and happy endings and the way things should be. In real life, bad things happen. People die. Fights are lost. Evil often wins.

I just wanted to make that clear before I began.

One more thing: my name isn't really Darren Shan. Everything's true in this book, except for names. I've had to change them because... well, by the time you get to the end, you'll understand.

I haven't used any real names, not mine, my sister's, my friends, or teachers. Nobody's. I'm not even going to tell you the name of my town or country. I don't dare.

Anyway, that's enough of an introduction. If you're ready, let's begin. If this were a made-up story, it would begin at night, with a storm blowing and owls hooting and rattling noises under the bed. But this is a real story, so I have to begin where it really started.

It started in a toilet.

Copyright © 2001 by Darren Shan

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Interviews & Essays

Darren Shan Talks About His Chilling Book, Cirque Du Freak

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Cirque Du Freak?

A: Well, of course it's a true story, so I simply recounted the facts! Alternatively...I always wanted to write a book about vampires, but I didn't want to do the usual old Dracula-inspired story. One day I started thinking about how a vampire might travel around, and I came up with the idea of a vampire who is part of a circus -- but a circus seemed tame, so I thought some more, and settled upon the gruesomely flamboyant Cirque Du Freak, which seemed as logical a place to find a vampire as any.

Q: The main character in the book shares the same name as you. Are you similar to the Darren in Cirque Du Freak?

A: I'm not exactly the same -- the Darren in the books is much nobler and braver than I am -- but to a large degree he's based on myself, and thinks and speaks much the same as I do. But of course I'm much better looking than my fictional counterpart!

Q: Have you ever been to a freak show?

A: I'm going to plead the 5th on this one!

Q: What is the scariest book you've ever read?

A: Possibly Salem's Lot by Stephen King, which I think is the best vampire book of the 20th century. (Dracula is the best vampire book of the 19th century, while the Darren Shan books, naturally, are the best of the 21st! Ahem, did I mention in my answer to #2 that I'm also less modest than the Darren in the books?)

Q: Madam Octa plays a big role in Cirque Du Freak. How do you feel about spiders?

A: I was always rather afraid of them, which was one of the reasons I chose to use Madam Octa in the book -- being scared of spiders, I knew how to get the creepy best out of them! Oddly enough, since writing the book I’ve handled a live tarantula, so I'm no longer afraid of the little eight-legged lovelies!

Q: How many books do you have planned for this series?

A: Steel yourself -- there's going to be about 20 or more books in total! This is a LONG series which covers a lot of ground, time, characters and stories. The first 3 books stand alone (each tells its own story), but also act as the prologue to the BIG story which begins in Book 4: Vampire Mountain.

Q: Growing up, did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

A: Yes, ever since I was 5 or 6 years old, writing was the only job I was interested in. I love telling stories. People often ask me what I'd be if I wasn't a writer, but I can't truly answer that question because I never seriously considered any other career.

Q: How did you feel when you found out that Warner Bros. wanted to make a feature film out of your story?

A: As a big film buff, I was delighted! Lots of writers worry about movies and how scriptwriters and directors will handle their characters, but I'm just thrilled at the idea of seeing what they come up with. When I write, I try not to use too many descriptive details so readers are free to imagine characters their own way. I get a real buzz when readers draw characters from my books and show them to me, so I'll probably be buzzing like a bee when the film comes out and the freaky folks from the Cirque are given big-screen life!

Q: How long does it take you to write each book?

A: This isn't as easy to answer as you might think. I do a first draft of a Darren Shan book in 3-4 weeks, but I go through that at least 4 or 5 times, editing it into final shape. Each edit usually only takes about a week, so in total I probably spend 2 months on each book. I like to leave long gaps between edits, during which I work on other books and think about the one I've just written, so in actual time each novel is spread out over 2 years or more.

Q: Any other information/anecdotes you'd like to share with your readers?

A: I'd just like to impress upon the people of America the importance of blood banks and the need to make regular donations. Give freely...give today...give to ME!

Q&A courtesy of Little, Brown and Company

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 577 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(425)

4 Star

(81)

3 Star

(52)

2 Star

(11)

1 Star

(8)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 580 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 16, 2009

    READ THIS BOOK!!!

    i love this series i have them all i recomend it to everybody who likes vampires these books are just amazing you'll just love this it has so many twists and turns your going to be like OMG like all the time its awesome

    14 out of 17 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 19, 2010

    Terrible

    Okay so for all of you who read the comments before reading a book, you are smart. I started this series thinking it had a good plot line but it was horrible. If I could give you the ending of this series, I would! I spent like $100 on this series just to find out that I hated it!!! Don't be decieved by the exciting summaries. No matter how cool it sounds, it ended with my jaw wide open at how horrible an author can get.

    11 out of 43 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 9, 2009

    Excellent

    I read this series a long time ago, and I love it. I just wanted to say that it's being made into a MOVIE!!! Rumor is that the movie will consist of the first three books. I can't wait.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2009

    Good one.

    This book is really good. i enjoyed it. read it in a day! awesome couldn't put it down.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 8, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Read this book especially if your in middle school and hate reading i did and know i love reading

    READ THIS BOOK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    AND THE WHOLE SERIES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    5 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 5, 2009

    This book was amazing

    I loved the book i read the book in my class first and everyone contines with the series. I read the book in three days i recomend it to all teens. it tells the story of a normal boy when he arrive at a freak show there are definetly some unxpected twists and turns it will leave you blood thirsy for more!

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 22, 2009

    Cirque Du Freak

    Darren Shans¿ Cirque Du Freak is the dark fascinating diary of young Darren Shan and his best friend Steve Leopard. From an early age, Darren has loved spiders; he would catch them and keep them as pets and let them loose in his room. At the same time, his best friend Steve Leopard was growing up on horror comics and stories of Dracula and the Wolfman. So it obvious that when they got older and the Cirque Du Freak, a legendary freak show, came to town promising amazing sights, they decide they have to go.<BR/> At the freak show they witnessed incredible sights, from the ferocious Wolfman to Mr. Creepsly with his beautiful but deadly spider Madam Octa. Upon seeing the deadly spider, Darren knows that he must have her, but Steve recognizes Mr. Creepsly from a painting of an ancient vampire. Darren can¿t help himself and he steals Madam Octa. All goes well for about a week but then Madam Octa escapes and bites Steve. So what will Darren do? He must either risk his life by going to the vampire or condemn his best friend to an agonizing death. <BR/> This witty story was an excellent read It is easy enough to read for young adults but twisted and surprising enough for any adult.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2013

    Read It

    Kids 9-13 I think would love this book I am # and I love it. Theres so many twist in the book. I am on the last book and I couldnt put it down

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 16, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Cirque Du Freak!!!!!!!!

    I love this series to death...Darren Shan is a mastermind and knows how to frighten you, in a good way though. If you read this you are bound to finish it in less than a day. I enjoyed this book because it shows how vampires are really like...terrifying and blood thristy.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 9, 2012

    LOVE IT!!!!!!!

    I love this book I havent finith it yet but i am 11 and i love it

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    BEST SERIES EVER READ

    I LUVED THIS BOOK AND WHOLE SERIES YES THE 1ST BOOK STARTS OUT A LITTLE SLOW BUT AS U GET DEEPER IN THE SERIES THAT ENDS QUICKLY. THE AMAZINGNESS OF THIS SERIES CANT BE EXPLAINED IN WORDS U WILL NEVER FIND A SERIES BETTER THAN THIS ONE. it has so many twists and turns u wont believe it. i usually predict the story of books but this one i couldnt. i also reccomend the demonata series by the same author.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 20, 2012

    This is an awesome series of books. I don't really like series,

    This is an awesome series of books. I don't really like series, but once I started reading this, I couldn't stop. It's not really scary, but it has enough freaky stuff to really grab my attention.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 13, 2009

    Cirque Du Freak: A Living Nightmare

    Cirque Du Freak: A Living Nightmare<BR/> <BR/> A Living Nightmare is the beginning to an awesome Cirque Du Freak series. For starters Cirque Du Freak means freak show. Well, A Living Nightmare is mainly about friendship. But, all friendships are tested and toward the end of this book a friendship is tested. This book is also a great cliffhanger. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes fictional books or someone who likes adventurous books.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 10, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    AMAZING!!!

    I loved this book. The whole series is just amazing. If you thought this first book was a little boring (which I did not at all!!) still read the others because there are so many plot twists and surprises you can't even imagine. My favorite series I have ever read!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2014

    Great

    This book is great for people with a supernatural taste

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 2013

    An okay read

    These books are ok, but don't buy them. Borrow them from some one. They are kind of slow and good to read if you have the time but don't spend money on them.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 9, 2013

    Jhgb

    Omg this is a good book 5 star.if you are in to vampier stuff READ this

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 2, 2012

    WOW

    I can't describe how much fun it was to read this and how I COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN!!!!!!!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 17, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Great book for all ages!

    I read this book when it was first released and was instantly hooked to it, buying the next ones the second they were available in my local B&N. Its been a while since I read this series and found myself just as drawn into it the second time around as I had been the first. Its a great series and I recomend it for people of all ages!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2008

    AMAZING!!!!

    This book was AMAZING!!!! It was a little slow at the beginning but once you hit the part about the visit to the freakshow the story becomes so compelling and mezmerizing that you cant put the book down. I was so drawn into the story that I was even a little scared to go to bed the night i had finished reading it thinking there was a vampire outside my window. It sounds ridiculus but that is how amazing the story is, it really draws you in. I cannot recommend this book, and the rest of the series, enough.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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