I'm thrilled to have Jess Riley on the blog today with her amazing novel Mandatory Release. The novel takes place in prison, and the main character is a very interesting guy who spends his days strapped in a wheelchair. When his high school crush walks through the doors of the prison — NO, not as a new inmate! — as a teacher — he feels as life might not exactly be over.
Here is the book's synopsis:
"With appeal for fans of Jonathan Tropper, Tom Perrotta, and Laurie Notaro, this snarky mashup of Girls and Oz is so painfully honest you might think you're reading a memoir--except the author isn't a smartass guy in a wheelchair who works in a prison."
Recently paralyzed in a car accident, thirty-year-old Graham Finch spends his days trying to rehabilitate a caseload of unruly inmates and his nights on one bad date after another, attempting to rehabilitate his heart--
--until his high school crush Drew Daniels walks through the prison gates one hot summer morning. On the run from a painful past that's nearly crushed her faith in love, Drew is a new teacher at Lakeside Correctional. Graham, smitten all over again, tries to redirect his unrequited feelings. But when your heart keeps looking back, it's not easy to turn it forward.
Amidst escalating violence at work, Drew is forced to confront her secrets, find a way to forgive old sins, and learn how to listen to her heart and her head when it comes to men. Graham must also learn to make peace with his own past. Together they realize that if you're going to save yourself, sometimes the best way to do it is by saving someone else first. If only finding their way to one another was easier than working with convicted felons.
Loaded with twisted humor and pathos, Mandatory Release is a darkly comic look at friendship, forgiveness, and love. A story about broken people putting themselves back together. People who learn that no matter what you lock up--a person, a secret, or your heart--sooner or later, everything must be released.
And Jess's THESE THREE THINGS:
1) Mandatory Release mainly focuses on relationships between the characters, but we do shine a light on where they work, since it helps shape the plot. Many of my inmate characters and anecdotes are based on "real" inmates I knew when I worked as a teaching assistant at a medium-security prison in college. I was mentored by an amazing teacher, and after I left, she sent me a Thank You card signed by many of the inmates I worked with. (Attached.) My husband removed last names from the scan to protect the not-so-innocent. :)
2) It's true, my parents did meet in prison! My mother was a secretary at the time, my father a Unit Sergeant. This made dinner-time conversation VERY interesting in my youth. I still remember my Dad bringing home props he used when he gave staff trainings. One was a giant display suitcase, like the kind a traveling salesman might use, full of confiscated shanks and shivs!
3) I've been working on this novel for fourteen years, though it's been through so many edits it only bears a ghost of a resemblance to the first draft. The original title was THE COOL SIDE OF THE PILLOW, and Graham wasn't even a character in it. Now he's the central protagonist in MANDATORY RELEASE, and one of my favorite characters to write, ever.
I love Jess and her books for many reasons -- she doesn't sugar-coat it. You don't read about cutesy-pie stuff and glitter and high heels. Don't get me wrong -- that's great when you're in the mood for glitter and lipstick and high heels. And it's not like her books are down-and-dirty, but yes, they are gritty and real. That's the way I like to describe them. The women are women. The men are men. Jess can write a male character to sound like a man. I love that about her. This book has depth and heart. You will laugh out loud, and you might even cry. You'll get to know Graham and his wheelchair. You'll delight in Drew and feel for her and what's she's been through. You'll even come to like the prisoners. In the end, you'll feel like you've spent some time in prison with some really nice people but didn't have to eat the slop that's served there.
So, if you'd like to win a copy of Mandatory Release, let's see… if you ever had to go to prison, what item would you most want to take with you? I'd have to say I would take my laptop! Tell me what you would take, and you could win a copy of Mandatory Release!
Check the previous post to see what else is coming your way this summer - I'm going to try to be a lot better about posting on the blog and getting fabulous books to you!
If you're new to Booking with Manic, thank you for stopping by! We love new readers! Some notes - If you're entering to win a book, please leave a comment on this post and use an identifying name when commenting. It's usually a great idea to include an email, which I will never give out to anyone else. You can only enter once please. You'll need to check back here in a few days to see if you've won the book -- I will either list the winner in a new post OR highlight the winner's name at the top of this post, or tell you where you can find the winner's name at the top of this post. I do NOT personally contact the winners. It is YOUR responsibility to come back to see if you've won. Most books are supplied directly through publishers, publicists and the authors. Winners will receive books directly from the publisher or author within 3 weeks from the time you provide me with your address, unless I send you the book (sometimes I will). Sorry, but we can only ship to U.S. and Canada so if you're from another country, thank you for coming by to read and discover new authors, but we can't send you a book. Any questions on how I run the blog or suggestions on who you would like to see featured, please email me at stephanieelliot[at]gmail.com. Thank you for your support!