Mommy lit's new heroine, from Africa to L.A.

“Motherhood, a topic that doesn't hold a lot of panache in social situations, has become a hot topic in another area - popular fiction. And for good reason.

Where else can we find such fodder as a new mom trying to figure out when to switch sides during breast-feeding, how to get from one place to another without toting along her baby's entire wardrobe and toy chest, and the best way to change a diaper while on the highway? There's also all those conflicting feelings women have about going back to work and the stress of worrying whether your child measures up to the kid next door.

With so many books mining this topic, the challenge is to find one that covers the subject in a new way.
Enter "Making it Up as I Go Along," a debut novel by Maria T. Lennon. Thanks to a thoroughly likable, witty-yet-insecure heroine desperately trying to make the best decisions, along with an absence of sentimental mush in the storytelling, the author makes a familiar topic feel fresh.

Add playful jabs at life in Los Angeles, a colorful assortment of friends, a creepy brother and an unexpected subplot involving life in Africa, and a compelling story emerges.

The book tells the story of 38-year-old Saffron Roch, a California journalist whose work takes her to the war zone in Sierra Leone. After becoming pregnant by a handsome surgeon working for a medical relief agency, she learns he has cheated on her. She returns home to Los Angeles and discovers she has inherited her adoptive mother's Malibu beachfront property worth $10 million.

The problem is she still pines for Africa, as well as the man she left there. Making matters worse, the will stipulates she only gets the property if certain conditions are met, including that her beloved never step foot on the property.

Feeling woefully inadequate as a mother doesn't help things, either. A single mother, newly jobless and more comfortable traveling the world with a backpack, the protagonist finds herself out of place amid the insulated, pampered L.A. lifestyle.

Helping her navigate are a quartet of women friends she meets at a trendy breast-feeding class: Anika, a new mom who does everything perfectly; Sophia, a gorgeous, young mom whose biggest thrill is finding out where a "Melrose Place" star goes for a Mommy and Me class; Alice, prim and proper; and Nancy, a social climber who "scheduled her C-section so as not to interrupt her husband Stan's big screening."

A Los Angeles resident herself, the author pokes fun at "L.A. ladies," as when Saffron balks at Anika's suggestion to meet at a hip L.A. restaurant, a place where "behind those massive art deco doors, women did not 'do' babies. Their help did it for them, feeding them, diapering them, taking them to the park, and putting them to bed at night. Mom was there for the big stuff, the stuff that really mattered like the weekend photo op."

The novel is at turns humorous while describing Saffron's misadventures in mothering, and also sobering and heartbreaking in its depictions of life in war-torn Africa. It's a tricky balance to attempt, but the author blends the two throughout the story, making the book part travelogue - with details not only of the beauty of Africa but graphic details of the horrors and brutality during civil war in Sierra Leone - and part chick lit.
"Making it Up as I Go Along" introduces an appealing new heroine to the growing number of books about women trying to make the best choices. And as every mother knows, it never hurts to have another person's foibles to smile at knowingly.”
Reviewed by Mia Geiger
The Denver Post
Mia Geiger is a freelance writer in the Philadelphia area

Put away Brazelton & Spock, The World is Flat, and Freakonomics – whatever your conscience is telling you that you should be reading now. It's time for some summer fluff, the lying-on-the-beach, flying-on-the-plane, napping-by-the-pool (or stealing-half-an-hour-while-Junior-naps) kind of book. However you manage it, the best of the season's lighter fare usually features a tempting cocktail of romance, gossip and revenge. Throw in a riff on modern over-the-top mommy culture and you've got a real corker on your hands.

Making It Up As I Go Along, a first novel by journalist Maria Lennon out today, pits Saffron Roch in the classic dilemma between high-powered international career and late-in-the-game motherhood. She is a 38-year-old correspondent based in Sierra Leone when she finds herself pregnant by her egotistical (and cheating) surgeon-boyfriend. Lured by the prospect of a large inheritance, Saffron decides to pack it up – career, relationship, everything she thought was her life – and head home, trading war-torn Africa for the trenches of motherhood in La La land. As the story (and the unexpected turns of her new life) unfold, Saffron's previous existence lingers in the back of her mind. Amidst the fight to claim what is hers, and nurture what she has created – even in her newfound mommy-comrades – she discovers a depth of experience she once hopped the globe for.

Good stuff, right? Implausible plots are what great fluff is all about, and this book certainly fits the bill. It may be fiction, but there's something in here that just about every woman and mom (dipping toes in the deep end or sneaking off for a few quiet minutes alone) can relate to.

Pass the Coppertone.
Urban Baby.Com Beach Reads

“The long, hot, lazy days of summer are somehow just about perfect for certain books. Making It Up As I Go Along by Maria T. Lennon is one of those.

Saffron Roch, a war correspondent who is passionate about her career, leaves Sierra Leone, Africa for her home state of California after learning that her lover, Oscar, a surgeon with Doctors Without Borders, has been unfaithful. To complicate matters, Saffron is pregnant with the arrogant Oscar's child.

California brings another chapter to Saffron's life. She's a single mother to daughter Halla; her adoptive mother, Heaven, has left her a $10 million estate; her brother Francis seems to accept his disinheritance (or does he?); she's struggling between her love for her child and the loss of her career; and then there's the attraction to another man still in Sierra Leone whose life is in danger.

Saffron left the nerve-wracking and dangerous life of chaos and mayhem in war-torn countries for the equally tension-filled life of changing diapers, breastfeeding and coordinating life with baby in tow. Ultimately Saffron must decide about living the safe everyday life she now has in California - or risk all for what is in Africa.

Making It Up As I Go Along weaves two stories: the humorous one of the life Saffron is living in eccentric California and the other darker, intense and dangerous story of Sierra Leone.

As a mother who is soon to have our second child, I could identify with all those feelings Lennon so aptly expressed. I also thought about family, career and the choices we women are required to make about them. It does feel that we are making it up as we go along. This book grabbed me and took me along for a heartwarming ride. I know www.ArmchairInterview readers will enjoy it too.”
Reviewed by Alia Pranke

“In Making It Up as I Go Along a savvy war correspondent faces the ultimate challenge of single motherhood, and fortunately for her readers, brings us along for the ride. And what a ride it is, from the first hilarious account of breastfeeding with her newfound women pals until the heartwarming ending. Don't miss this one!”
Cassandra King, author of The Same Sweet Girls and The Sunday Wife

“Maria Lennon creates, with pitch-perfect details and an incredibly vivid voice, a real modern-day character who’s smart and gutsy and fallible. This is a must-read for anyone who has ever had to make a tough choice about family, career, or love. You’ll find yourself cheering for Saffron on every page!”
Lisa Tucker, author of The Song Reader and Shout Down the Moon

“New mothers will surely identify with Saffron Roche's struggle between her love affair with her new baby and her identity loss at leaving behind a worldly career. This is a compulsively readable novel with lots of laugh out loud insights into life.”
Paulina Porizkova, former model, current mother and novelist

“When 38-year-old war correspondent Saffron Roch quits Sierra Leone, pregnant with her unfaithful lover's child, she heads to London to have baby Halla and then returns to her native California to find herself catapulted into two new, unnerving conflicts. There's that single-motherhood business, for one, and then there's the fact that she's netted a $10-million estate from her adoptive mother, Heaven, whose disinherited birth son, the tofu-eating pseudo-guru Francis, seems weirdly okay with it. Meeting other new moms at the Pump Station, a haven for Malibu mommies that pushes breast-feeding and "bath products that Catherine Zeta-Jones used," gives Saff a much-needed boost, even if she's "better prepared at ambushing a pocket of Chechen rebels than... having brunch at Barney's with a baby in tow." Lennon ably shows Saff's growing friendship with her fellow moms; she also, through flashbacks, reveals Saff's complicated past in Sierra Leone—her troubles with Halla's father, the surgeon Oscar; her attraction to Joseph, a beautiful, mysterious African—while weaving quite a present-day plot. Back in Sierra Leone, Joseph may be put to death for treason, while in Malibu, Francis is cooking up a plot to get his mom's property back. Lennon's debut is a winning mix of humor and suspense.”
Publishers Weekly, June 2005