A book review by Richard Martin
Welcome to Rick’s Read-Along. A new series presented by Horror Oasis where I visit an author’s entire back catalogue and encourage you, the reader, to read along with me. I will publish my thoughts on each book every two weeks, while also announcing the next book I’ll be reading. Every author selected will be someone whose back catalogue is readily available and is somebody we feel our readers will enjoy discovering along with us. I hope that you’ll all join me in sharing your thoughts.
The first author in the series will be Gemma Amor. Gemma is a Bram Stoker Award-nominated writer whose books include Dear Laura, Cruel Works of Nature, White Pines, Girl on Fire and These Wounds We Make, all of which Gemma has self-published, as well as producing her own unique and beautiful cover art. Not content with conquering the world of indie horror, Gemma is also a successful podcast writer, contributing to the No Sleep and Shadows at the Door Podcast as well as co-creating the female-centric comedy-horror audio drama, Calling Darkness. Visit her website at gemmaamorauthor.com
Next up on our read-along series is Gemma’s second short story collection, These Wounds We Make (an updated and expanded version of 2019’s ‘Till The Score Is Paid’). Much like I did with her debut collection, Cruel Works of Nature, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on each of the book’s thirteen short stories individually. As these articles are intended to encourage people to read these books along with me there will obviously be spoilers ahead, although I will strive to keep them minor and avoid spoiling major reveals or twists along the way for those who haven’t read it yet.
Have You Seen My Dog?
A terrifying tale to kick off the collection, and one that really helps set the tone for what’s to come. There is an overbearing sense of helplessness and vulnerability around this story of a doctor who is assaulted by, what she first assumes, is a patient suffering from dementia, but soon finds that it is something altogether more sinister. As a straight ghost story, this is incredibly effective stuff, but as a commentary of the all-too-real horrors of mental health issues, it’s a tough but memorable read.
One of the things I think Amor does really well is body horror, and this is a great example. Like Cruel Works of Nature’s ‘Foliage’, this short is a simple but effective story, with an absolutely killer body horror sequence that makes it stick in the mind long after you’ve finished reading.
This proved to be one of my favourite shorts of the collection, and even by this books’ standards, was a bit of a difficult read at times, tackling some big themes and despicable subjects. Amor starts the story near the end and we’re filled in on backstory as we go, giving these flashbacks a gut-wrenching sense of finality. Things get a little dream-like and surreal as the story progresses and it works really well alongside the unflinchingly real core story. A challenging but very rewarding story.
I am Ghost
This tale of a teenage trick or treater letting his ‘real’ side out every Halloween was an interesting deep dive into the psyche of a troubled young man. I had certain preconceived notions about where this story might go, and I could not have been more wrong. The ending took me by surprise and was an unexpected change of pace from the slow build-up and creeping foreboding of the early pages.
Probably my favourite story of the bunch (as well as the star of the awesome cover). Rat Girl is equal parts coming-of-age horror and creature feature but, like a lot of this book’s stories, there is more going on when you read between the lines. Strangely, I got some ‘Girl Next Door’ (horrible Ketchum book, not 2004 rowdy teen rom-com movie) vibes from Rat Girl and while it doesn’t take things quite as far as Ketchum, there is still the same underlying foreboding and dread throughout, and the ending is delightfully weird and unexpectedly bleak.
My Best Friend
I thought this story might have been the authors’ own take on 127 Hours to begin with, but the reality was oh so much better than that! A young woman has gone hiking with her best friend and an accident has left one dead and the other trapped and, after days with no rescue in sight, she is starting to get hungry… This was a very bleak, but darkly humorous story, told in the first person to really get inside the head of someone in a truly dire situation.
Heart of Stone
Heart of Stone is probably the most melancholic story of the collection, focusing on a father enjoying rare visits with his young daughter. The story slowly reveals why these visits are so infrequent and, as time passes and his daughter grows older, drifting apart from her largely absent dad, some supernatural hints and clues become more overt until the ending which… well, I won’t spoil it but, suffice to say, this is not the collection for fans of happy endings!
Cell Block B
This one builds up a lot of tension by clueing in the reader from the start that this is no ordinary prisoner and they are not in any ordinary prison, but the truth behind both is revealed slowly and the final revelation makes this one of those rare stories that fundamentally change the story you have just read. I highly recommend re-reading this one after your first readthrough, it makes for a very different experience.
Birthday Cake For Brian
A short but fun (well, fun by comparison to what’s come before) little story of a young boy celebrating his birthday with his father, where everything is not quite as it seems. This one is lean and mean and one of the collection’s most purely entertaining entries.
I had to put the book down after reading ‘The Strangler’ to let the story sink in. I kept expecting a twist, or a supernatural angle to manifest but none did, and the story is all the stronger for it. I imagine this being the book’s most polarising story because it very bluntly and unwaveringly delves into some difficult subjects (namely Postpartum Depression) and what you see is what you get. There is no subtext or use of creatures or paranormal goings-on to serve as a metaphor. It is a story about a new mother, airing her feelings, and it is easily the book’s most devastating and upsetting story.
The Crack In The Wall
Funny story. I moved into my new house around a year ago and, in the bedroom, there was a crackdown the wall, just like the one in this story. It’s still there (hidden with some filler and behind some wallpaper), a fact I was all too conscious of when trying to go to sleep after reading this short!
How Not To Get Rid of a Body
Of all the stories in this collection, this one stood out to me for leaning most heavily into the black comedy. It almost reads like a farce, complete with broad physical humour and outlandish scenario, but a farce set in the grizzly world of Saw, or Hostel. Another example of the author’s underrated talent for memorable and unique body horror, and one of the collection’s rare comedic offerings.
The longest story in the collection proves to be a particularly strong story to close the book with. A very British tale of a broken family struggling to manage their farm during the outset of the Second World War, and how their lives change when they take in a young evacuee from the city. The time period is so vividly realized and the characters so real, I really connected with this one. It was an interesting juxtaposition between the stark real-world realities of life during the war, coupled with a satanic panic/folk horror vibe. A great ending to a great book.
These Wounds We Make is a very different collection to ‘Cruel Works of Nature’. The stories lean darker, more introspective. Gone are the fun stories of man-eating cows and spider apocalypses and while there are plenty of fantastical offerings here, they tend to serve the story, rather than be the story. This is a far more serious, grounded book than Cruel Works, and while I did miss the fun factor of some of that books’ more outlandish entries, I can honestly say that the stories on offer here are the ones that will no doubt stay with me.
Please join me back here in 2 weeks, when we will be reading Gemma’s latest novel, Girl on Fire. Hope to see you all then!
I recently submitted the latest in the #RicksReadAlong series (These Wounds We Make) to @Horror_Oasis and I'm now down to one more book in my @manylittlewords readalong ?— Richard Martin (@RickReadsHorror) June 3, 2021
I am, however, VERY excited to finally read Girl on Fire and hope some of you will read along with me! pic.twitter.com/iXfnvL9aqd
Richard Martin started reading horror books at a young age, starting with R L Stine’s ‘Goosebumps’ and ‘Point Horror’ series. He traumatized himself at the age of twelve when he read Stephen King’s ‘IT’, and never looked back. He is currently based in the UK, where he lives with his partner and an inappropriate amount of books.