Just a Touch Away (Just a Touch Away #1) – Jae

Winter and Hannah should never have met. The former is a forty-one-year-old workaholic, the latter a professional cuddler in her early thirties. They couldn’t be more different and even their relationships with the one person they have in common were entirely opposite. Winter’s late father has always made her life more difficult whereas to Hannah, he was simply an old man looking for some comfort. Both sides of him led to Winter and Hannah having to live in the same apartment for ninety-two days in order to jointly inherit the building.

I really liked Hannah, despite her being way too perfect. That’s interesting to me because Hannah’s touchy-feely self should have annoyed me a lot more than it did, maybe because I don’t have to deal with her IRL but also, I believe, because she’s very respectful of others’ boundaries. On the other hand, I’m sorry to say I never really warmed to Winter. This book is marketed as an ice queen romance but to me, she isn’t an ice queen. There’s more to that title than being cold and rude, which is how I saw her for most of the book, even if she has her tender moments. However, while I like to think I’m nicer than Winter, I share her need for physical distance. I very much dislike being touched by strangers – except in very specific circumstances (yoga instructors, physical therapists) – and by strangers I mean pretty much everyone who isn’t my wife. I’ve already written about her touch being the exception and feeling necessary to my skin. I didn’t have to think very hard to find an idea for the graphic accompanying this review, the t-shirt friends gave me a couple of years ago came to mind immediately.

The two things I liked best in this book are Jae’s descriptions of how professional cuddlers can help people and how aphantasia impacts a person’s perspective on life. The idea of being cuddled by a stranger makes me want to hide behind my couch but I understand a lot better now what it can bring in some cases. Being touched on your own terms is both reassuring and empowering and Hannah’s clientele encompasses a wide array of ways it can enrich a person’s life or allow them to regain control.

Aphantasia is also a foreign experience to me. I know it’s different for everyone, just like dyspraxia is both similar and singular for every dyspraxic person, but again, I understand better what it means to be aphantasic, in a general manner. And it made me think about how my own brain works (surprise!). I don’t have aphantasia, I have a mind’s eye, yet I don’t see movies when I read or write the way some others do. I don’t picture characters or scenery but I get feelings. I do relive some memories, usually the ones I wish I could forget because of course that’s how anxiety works. I can sometimes imagine what voices sound like and can very easily summon smells and tastes, which makes complete sense with how I experience life. I’m all about sensations and emotions. They’re very strong, both the good and the bad. One aspect of Hannah’s aphantasia I’m familiar with is the difficulty to recognize faces, as my wife has prosopagnosia. She’s also one of those people who see movies when they read or write, unlike Hannah. I liked the way Jae described how aphantasia affects Hannah’s life, her outlook, her seize-the-day personality. I always love hearing or reading about how we all experience things in our own unique way, and Jae did a great job of incorporating it into the story without making it sound like a neuroscience lecture.

Even though I had a couple of issues with this book – the pace is uneven, Hannah is too perfect, Winter’s character deserved more subtlety –, it’s an enjoyable read, enlightening, funny and sweet. And there’s a short story featuring Winter and Hannah, A Great Catch, that can be downloaded for free. Jae, being a considerate author, also added a reading companion on her blog, as well as interviews with other aphantasic authors that complete Hannah’s explanations nicely. 3.5⭐️

4-stars

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