Stefanie Dell'Aringa

Freelance Writer

Category: Book Reviews

Left to Tell – Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust

When Immaculeé Ilibagiza was born, her parents selected the perfect surname. “In Rwanda, every family member has a different last name,” she writes in her book, Left to Tell – Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust.  “Parents give each child a unique surname at birth, one that reflects the feelings of the mother or father at the moment they first lay eyes on their new baby.” (Left to Tell, pg. 5)

Translated, Ilibagiza means “shining and beautiful in body and soul.” No truer words could describe this courageous female author who is a survivor of the 1994 genocide that took one million lives in 100 days in an unspeakably horrifilefttotellc war between Rwandan tribes.

Ilibagiza never knew violence, growing up in a loving home with educated parents who regularly helped out the less fortunate. She didn’t even know she was part of a tribe until a Hutu extremist teacher called for an “ethnic role call” in school and her parents revealed to her that she was a Tutsi. Although her identity thus far had been neatly wrapped up in her Catholic faith, education, evening prayers, and family’s love, Ilibagiza suffered the unfortunate baptism into the violence and divide that unwrapped and exposed her. It shut down a country and forever changed its landscape.

Instead of letting hatred and evil take hold of her own heart, Ilibagiza uses her experience to strengthen her relationship with God and “move mountains.” Amidst the killers chanting “Kill the cockroaches!” the swinging machetes that led to piles of rotting corpses, the loss of her family, the betrayal of her Hutu friends, boyfriend and others, she resolves to sharpen her focus on the one and only relationship she can trust – one with God.

A truly gripping page-turner, this woman’s against-all-odds survival from the killers of the Hutu tribe covers moment-to-moment accounts of near death experiences, while Ilibagiza and seven other Tutsis hid in a tiny bathroom for three months and lived, despite circumstances that claimed the lives of nearly everyone in their village. It’s proof to any reasonably thinking person that God does exist.

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the book goes to the LEFT TO TELL Charitable Fund, which helps Africa’s orphaned children.


Wesley the Owl – It’s a Hoot!

Imagine owning a pet who occasionally attacks your guests, tries to mate with your arm and for whom you must kill thousands of mice (paying $1 each and driving miles to find!) Welcome to the world of biologist Stacey O’Brien, a single gal who has a hard time dating because her heart belongs to Wesley, a “domesticated” barn owl.

Wesley the Owl – the Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl, is a quick weekend read that will captivate any animal lover. But it’s also great for high schoolers interested in pursuing a career in science.

In first-person narrative, O’Brien tells her tale of taking home an injured and homeless owl and attempting to raise him. From infancy to adulthood, Wesley learns her human ways, including the comical art of bathing (sometimes in the toilet!) even though owls are not water birds. But he stays true to his innate characteristics, killing spiders and her pet finches, swooping down on unsuspecting visitors and making the oddest of sounds. Owls don’t necessarily say “hoo hoo” like we learned in preschool! Ironically, Wesley doesn’t seem comfortable killing mice. Maybe that’s because O’Brien has fed him the already killed variety and in the process developed carpal tunnel from smacking so many of their skulls with an artful and quick flick of her wrist. She found it to be the most humane method.

Like a typical toddler, Wesley is treated with the same language O’Brien’s friend, Wendy uses on her child. “Not for babies” seems to work for Wendy’s inquisitive kid, so O’Brien uses “not for owls.” This phrase is used pretty often since practically everything in O’Brien’s apartment is “not for owls!”

O’Brien details her day-to-day life with Wesley and the effort it takes to raise such a unique and magnificent creature. In addition to learning all about Wesley, you hear what it’s like to work as a biologist, get a peek into the goings-on of her lab, CalTech, and find out about other biologists and their jobs. The research she describes in the book totally enlightened me since being a scientist/researcher/biologist is especially foreign to a right brainer like me.

There are times when you feel like you’re part of O’Brien’s world as she openly and honestly shares her thoughts and feelings, their deep relationship and the trials they encounter together. And, as with any pet story, there’s the inevitable heartache of their final parting since humans outlive their pets.

The best part, by far, is how Wesley seems a bit confused about his master and adopts her as his own mate. The trusting bond forged between them proves itself one night as Wesley lays across O’Brien’s chest, spreading his enormous wings tip to tip. It’s as if he gave her a gigantic owl hug and for that brief moment, the impossible seems possible. You find out that the statement “owls are wise” is a bit of an understatement.

Originally, I heard about this book through a friend. I purchased it for a bleeding heart animal activist I know who then insisted I read it once she finished it. I was so happy that I spent the time immersed in this amazing relationship between an owl and his love.

Once I finished this book, I passed it to my daughters to read. I suggest you purchase your copy today. This book made both the New York Times and Los Angeles Times Bestseller lists.

Get it here –


Girls of Greatness

Girls of Greatness by Lisa Dean is a must-read for anyone with a tween or teen girl. I wish this book had been around when I was that tender young age fumbling through the awkward, transitional period between child and woman.

This book directs your path and offers suggestions for so many aspects of life. Written from a Christian perspective, this 99-page quick read published by Tate Publishing & Enterprises highlights the idea that to be a girl of greatness you have to put others first. This is so important for young girls to know in this “me first” generation. In this technological age, everyone is charged up, logged on, plugged and tuned in, yet there is such a sense of disconnection. People don’t talk face-to-face as much as they text and email, it seems. But a girl of greatness goes beyond herself, her texting and her own little world to help others. “She’s a dreamer, a thinker, a believer, a doer, and a difference maker,” (Dean, Girls of Greatness, page 15).

This book talks about dreaming big, achieving your goals through positive thinking, getting rid of negative thoughts so we can navigate our actions positively, manners, caring for your body, and making a difference in the world. Through fun quizzes, a girl can identify where she’s at with self-esteem, which ultimately affects how she’ll treat others in the world.

Lisa Dean strives to let girls know that nothing can keep them from achieving their dreams, but she stops short, giving a dose of reality. One example she gives is that if you want to be a great singer but you can’t carry a tune, it’s probably not a realistic goal.

I also was quite thankful for the food pyramid chart she used to illustrate the chapter called One Life, One Body. With the increasing and ever astounding statistics on childhood obesity, it’s a chapter very much needed, and it includes a helpful food quiz to see if we girls are making healthy choices.

I recommend Girls of Greatness for a book club, or just private reading between you and your daughter. We chose to read it for our book club and it was one of the best dicussions we’ve had yet. There were nine girls, all talking at once about their dreams and how they plan to achieve them. Because of this book, I believe there are nine girls of greatness in the making.

About the Author: Lisa Dean is a freelance journalist and motivational speaker who lives in South Barrington, IL. She is a former pageant girl, having won the title of Mrs. Illinois several years ago, and she’s a big supporter of the Boys & Girls Club. She attends Willow Creek Community Church.

To Kill a Mockingbird

I decided to spend the Memorial Day weekend reading a great classic that hadn’t been assigned to me in my high school English classes, and in college, I was too busy taking 17th Century Poetry, Prose and Drama, Beowulf, Advanced Poetry, Shakespeare and Advanced Essay Writing to give it a thought. I had of course heard of it, and often wondered about its title. I will wonder no more, but let you know that this unique naming has an incredible payoff at the end.

I am so glad I took the time to read this. For starters, I could almost feel the heat of the deep South and the stinging prejudices of the time. There’s no better book than one which puts the reader at edge over injustices, and then rights it all in the end. (I hope I haven’t given away too much here).

TKAM is a story told from the perspective of a young, precocious child named Scout who is forced to go to elementary school when she’s already been fluently reading for “as long as she could remember.” She’s a tomboy who experiences the painful trials of learning about human behavior and this culminates with a great trial (literally) when her lawyer/father defends a Negro.

Throughout this fictional tale, we enjoy the strong, authentic relationships between her and her brother, Gem and their summertime friend and visitor, Dill. The story is a great read for anyone who is curious about people as it details the eccentricities of various neighbors in the established community that is Maycomb County. The gossip never ends here, it seems. It’s as if someone burps and it’s all over town and the tales grow as tall as the oak trees. Speaking of trees, there’s one in particular that holds special treasures for Gem and Scout. Here, we see Harper Lee artfully give us just a glimpse of foreshadowing.

I dare not tell another detail. I would rather see you go out and get this book for yourself and enjoy what I consider to be an incredibly great story. I couldn’t get to the end fast enough, and then when I did, I was disappointed that I was finished reading it. I guess I wanted to stay in Maycomb County just a little longer.

I am hopeful that both my daughters will spend a portion of their summer reading this book.

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