Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Elle Cosimano REVIEW

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Due out February 2, 2021

From the first sentence of Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Elle Cosimano, I could tell this book was witty and wry. Finlay is a recently divorced single mom with a book contract hanging in the balance. She’s struggling to write her next romantic suspense novel when she gets mistaken for a hitman and seriously considers the job and the $50,000 that goes with it.

This is Cosimano’s first book for adults, which is a departure from her previous young adult novels. I think this is why the book comes across so youthful and light in places. It definitely doesn’t have that dark sinisterness of other thrillers and mysteries, which is a nice break. However, the plausibility of the plot is a little questionable. What starts out as a funny mistake turns into something much more involved and I wonder how realistic the story seems. That being said, it is very entertaining.

The characters are well developed and I felt invested in what happens to them, but the plot was a bit slow at points, especially towards the middle. It also seemed like the romantic element could have been more detailed. I think it would have been better if there was one love interest instead of two, or really three. We had Nick, the cop, Julian, the bartender, and Steven, the ex-husband. I liked the romantic element, but didn’t really like that there were multiple guys Finlay vacillated between.

I did really enjoy that the main character is a strong female and not one that needed rescuing. Often in thrillers, the main character is trapped or kidnapped and needs rescuing by a man in the story. In this one, it turned that trope on its head as we followed a fully capable female character. I’m assuming that this may be the first in a series, although I can’t be sure, but it seemed like there were loose threads at the end that could easily translate into another book. All in all, I enjoyed this book for the suspense, strong female characters, and romantic element.

How to Pick a Title for your Writing

I find this idea a bit ironic because I’m writing for October Poetry Writing Month and am not using titles for my daily poems. But that aside, I think finding a title for your work is truly difficult. I have found that writers approach it in different ways. Here are some ideas for choosing a title:

  • Pull a line from your work: You can choose a particularly meaningful line from your work to use as the title. It can be something a character says or possibly some major idea in the work. Think of To Kill a Mockingbird.
  • You can use a theme from your work: If your poem is about insomnia and nightmares, as my Poem #5 is, you could title it that. The downside is that it is more vague, but the upside is that it is more relatable to wide range of readers.
  • You can use the title to describe what the piece involves: An example would be “A Walk in the Park” or “A Scene from the Bridge”.
  • Make it emotional. This one might not be for everyone, but you could add some intrigue and enticement by inciting the emotion the work holds. For example, if you are writing a sad piece, it might be “The Last Time I Saw You” or a happy piece might be “Wonderful News”. These are fairly simplistic, but you get the idea.
  • Use a one word title. I have to admit that I am partial to these. I wrote a poem called “Blue” and it was about the color and so much more. Sometimes a simple title is artistic and beautiful.

What are some other ways you title your work? When teaching my students, I find that they often will leave titles to the very end. Do you start with a title or come up with it after you’ve completed your work?

Poem #5

It starts with a tingling in my limbs
like electricity that bolts me awake
my eyes forced closed
for I don't want to acknowledge
the sensation of losing control
my mind wanders to thoughts 
so dark they scare me
into believing they are true
a desperate attempt 
to dampen the demons 
that grip me with their sharp fingers
that dig into my skin
so deep
I fear I will never be rid of them
the way they sink into my soul
forcing their way in
like a leak I cannot stop
a tear that started out small
only to widen a little each day
until I am left exposed
with a gaping hole
too big to hide any longer.

© Jennifer Lee Novotney 2020

Poem #4

I skipped up the block to Amy's house
perfume lingering from my mother's hug
my braid hitting my back with each hop
I held my bag full of candy tighter 
between my sticky fingers
each step threatening to drop it
I'd gone to our favorite candy store
and gotten twice as much to share with her
every Saturday was like a party at Amy's 
her two brothers ran around the house in circles
her mother would cook a big breakfast
and always have some left over for me
as I approached the crooked steps
it wasn't soft music that wafted out of their Spanish style home
but hard words thrown from one to another
as if in a wicked game of catch
I approached cautiously
like I was sneaking past a snake
peering through the window
Amy's father lunged into the room
face red
hands fisted
opening and closing in restraint
her mother shielding her face
shrieks from behind the closed doors
where Amy and I always played
my breath caught in my throat
my candy fell to the floor
like a broken pinata
I ran as fast as my legs would carry me
I ran so fast I nearly tumbled head first
as if it was me who was being chased
by Amy's father
his fists opening and closing.

© Jennifer Lee Novotney 2020

Theme in Writing

One thing that writers must think about in both longer and shorter works is theme. What is my piece about? I often find that new writers want to have mystery in their writing and don’t exactly know what their work is about. They can put a name to it like “a nightmare” or “betrayal” but can’t articulate the larger meaning behind the work. They want the reader to make their own assumptions and interpretations. So, what’s the problem with this?

Well, for starters, confusion. Some readers, out of frustration, will stop reading. You don’t want to lose readers or be so vague that people lose interest in your writing.

The real craft in writing is to articulate this theme or main message without actually spelling it out or being completely overt. You want to let the piece unfold for the reader naturally without having to shout it from the rooftops, but you do need to give readers the breadcrumbs along the trail.

The best way to do this is through clues in the piece. Use descriptive features to paint a picture for the reader without having to say, “Hey, this piece is about racism” or “This is a very sad man”.

The best way to do this is through “showing” versus “telling”. The problem is that you need to be very clear what exactly you are showing. The writer is in control of revealing the theme to the reader. This is where the expertise comes into play.


Telling: She got a bad grade on the math test and was embarrassed.

Showing: Her teacher walked by each desk with the stack of papers. She held her breath as he approached her. Then, as if in slow motion, her test descended slowly from the stack of papers onto her desk. A big, fat, F stared back at her. Her cheeks reddened and she quickly spread her hands over her test, the red ink peeking through her fingers.

Do you see the difference here? In the first one, the writer is just telling us exactly what happened, but in the second one, we gain that knowledge based on the descriptive clues the writer has left.

Theme is no different. You want to weave it in through storyline or plot. You want to gently express your theme in the carefully-crafted diction of a poem. If you cannot articulate what your piece is about, neither will your reader.

Descriptive Writing

When talking about descriptive writing, poetry is the first thing that comes to mind. I’ve often said that poetry is images. Now, this might be a little simplistic, but all good poetry contains images and therefore imagery. Imagery is as simple as this: If you read something and you can see it in your mind’s eye, then it’s imagery. Of course, imagery is much more than that. It can include all of the five senses of taste, touch, sight, smell, and sound.

Take this line for example:

I walked through the meadow this morning.

There’s not much description here…or is there? Do you hear the birds chirping? Do you smell the grass? Can you feel the earth under your feet? You often don’t have to fill your writing with too much description in order to produce imagery. I believe in the simplicity of language just as much as the more developed, descriptive kind. Using less words in a more powerful way is the epitome of strong poetry. You want to recreate the feeling without giving away as much as you would in fiction. This is why it’s so powerful for writers to express their emotions this way.

Now compare this line to the previous one:

I pranced through the tall grass and dandelion-filled, dew-kissed meadow at dawn.

Yes, of course it’s more descriptive, but it leaves less to the imagination for the reader. We can see the yellow flowers, feel the dew, and smell the damp freshness of the morning. We see, feel, and smell each blade of grass as it grazes our legs. Yet, one might argue that we also feel this from the first example as well.

Both are acceptable and both could be lines from a poem or story. It all depends on your writing style and how much you want to paint a picture for your reader. But the main lesson here is that description, or lack thereof, should be deliberate. How much or how little description you include in your writing is up to you.

Poem #3

The cool autumn air 
hits my lungs
as if I’ve walked into a new world
freshness filling my chest
The leaves fall like snow
taking their time
as if meant to descend in this particular
way, this particular order
I pick one up
run my fingers over the raised veins
the way it curves and straightens
a path created years ago
each leaf unique
yet distinctly familiar
Like people themselves
who walk the earth.

© Jennifer Lee Novotney 2020

Poem #2

A crash wakes me up
like books falling
or boxes that have come tumbling down
or possibly a small piece of furniture
that has gone wrong side up
its legs and underbelly exposed
like an overturned bug.
My eyes pop open
like flowers in the sun
moist with morning dew
little meows beckon me 
from the other side of the bedroom door
a dance we play each morning
as I waltz into the kitchen to feed them.
The air is crisp
I pad across the cool tiled floor 
leaves still clinging to trees 
beyond the windowpane
some have already changed
bright orange or deep red
standing out from the others like celebrities.
The others who remain green
resisting the inevitability of change
that accost them each fall
for they must know that the worst is upon them
when they disappear all together
a nuisance for someone to rake and discard
like yesterday’s trash.

© Jennifer Novotney 2020

Poem #1

The light from the mid-morning sun
gleams through the windowpane
a sharp angle contrasted against the dim shade
the early October breeze rustles the trees
their multi-colored leaves sprinkling the air
with red, yellow, and orange confetti
a celebration marking the end of summer
puffs of clouds like cotton
decorate the blue sky
with their bright white fullness
until they disappear
like marshmallows that melt into hot chocolate
the hum of a tractor faint in the distance
a metronome of work
in the old town on the top of the mountain
the clack of metal on metal
men’s voices marking orders
shade encroaching on rooftops
like fingers grasping time.

© Jennifer Lee Novotney 2020

The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins REVIEW

To Be Released on January 5, 2021

The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins follows Jane, a dog walker in the upscale neighborhood of Thornfield Estates, who alludes to a mysterious and sordid past. When she meets wealthy widower Eddie while walking a dog, sparks fly.

Eddie’s former wife, Bea, went missing with her best friend Blanche during a boating accident and they are both presumed dead. Bea was the founder of Southern Manors, a lifestyle brand that Eddie now runs. Jane is wedged into this opulent life that she’s never before experienced, even if she doesn’t quite belong.

I really, really like this one! I have a soft spot for anything gothic and this book does not disappoint in that department. With Bea’s presence lurking around every corner, it really does give off a strong Southern Gothic vibe. I think the best part about this thriller is that the characters aren’t who they appear to be and that everyone has a different side to them.

Some characters are more two faced than others and the fun part comes from reading up to the end to find out the real truth. I highly recommend this one!