Review: When We Were Ghosts – E.J. Phillips

Review: When We Were Ghosts – E.J. PhillipsWhen We Were Ghosts
by E.J. Phillips
Publication Date: October 20, 2020
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 331
Source: A Novel Take PR

I received this book for free from A Novel Take PR in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My rating: One StarOne StarOne Star

Gemma’s a loner, but she’s got her twin brother Alex, so who really cares, right? When you’re a twin, you’re never alone.

Then, one day, she doesn’t have Alex anymore. Instead, she has a ghost named Eve and her brother’s dickhead friends for company—and one desperate plan.

They’re going to get Alex back.

It just means catching the Wild Hunt, convincing the fae to give them an Undying heart, and chasing down the elusive spirit of her dead brother first. Simple.

Falling in love with a ghost wasn’t in the plan. But sometimes you have to veer off track before you find what you’re searching for.

A haunting novel about grief, loss, and finding your way home.


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Content warnings: View Spoiler »

Hello, gorgeous cover! And honestly, this book is gorgeous, in a very grief-laden, magical way. This is a heavier book, as much of the story is spent dealing (or not dealing with, depending on the character) death and grief, but it’s also lightened by a very snarky ghost and a sweet romance.

“A haunting is just a memory clinging to life. The echo of this world desperately seeking a way back,” Eve added.”

Gemma and Alex grew up knowing that there’s another world beyond our own, full of fae, ghosts and even more sinister creatures. The fae of the Wild Hunt are responsible for catching escaped spirits and returning them to the other side. It’s possible, if you listen carefully enough, to find the Wild Hunt, and if you bargain with them, even become one of them. So when a tragic accident happens, all Gemma can think to do is to find them and bargain with her own heart to bring back her beloved brother. Soon, the plan involves a bus stop ghost, her brother’s girlfriend, and his other two friends, traveling across Australia to bring Alex back. But things aren’t exactly what they seem, and Gemma and her companions find much more – and much less – than they bargained for.

“Earth to Gemma?” Eve rapped lightly on the side of Gemma’s head.
“Ghosts shouldn’t be able to punch people,” Gemma said, her voice distant to her own ears. “It’s just unfair. It’s like giving a vampire telepathy.”

While the book is ostensibly about searching for Alex’s lost ghost, it’s clear that Gemma is really the lost one. While the main characters are nineteen, this book definitely reads like young adult. Gemma spends a lot of time figuring out who she is, as she’s always thought of herself in relation to her twin. Alex was the social one, the one who always did the talking for her, and she doesn’t really have any other friends besides him. Well, except for her childhood best friend and first crush, Dawn, but she left for England when they were fourteen. That became even more clear once he starting hanging out with a new girlfriend and some other motorcycle guys. That version of Alex was different from Gemma’s Alex, and she hated them for it – and now blames them for his death. Gemma’s not exactly an unreliable narrator, but she’s used to lying to herself and ignoring what’s in front of her. There are some twists where I think the reader suspects what’s going on long before Gemma allows herself to. Her exploration of grief – the denial, the anger – really struck a chord with me.

“She wouldn’t let Gemma run. She never had, and this was the only person Gemma had never wanted to run from.”

As for Eve, the ghost Gemma recruits to help them, I adored her. I loved her snakiness and determination, and how she challenged Gemma. Gemma has a lot of emotional baggage, though, and for me that overshadowed the romantic arc between her and Eve. What’s there, though, is brilliant. There’s not much sexual content beyond some kisses, but the tension between them is amazing. I was rooting for them to kiss long before they finally did!

“You have to be somewhere to be someone,” Eve said, laughing softly at some private joke Gemma didn’t understand. “You can’t think yourself into existence. And you’re always moving too fast to land. Head’s on another plane—you’re up with the stars there, babe.”

I also loved the bits of the other side, how they communicated through billboards and radio noise. The world building was fascinating, and I found the book easy to get into, though the pacing was a bit uneven. The main con for me was that I found a lot of Gemma’s thoughts and actions circular and repetitive and it affected the tone for me. There were parts of the ending that seemed a little odd, but overall I bought the HEA.

Overall, I’d give this 3.5 stars. This is definitely a case of “it’s not you, it’s me.” If you’re looking for a magical but grief-soaked story about a woman finding herself after a tragic death, complete with a sweet wlw romance with a ghost, I think this book will work out better for you.

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