Readers and Writers: A look at new books by Minnesota Book Award winners Webb and Eskens – TwinCities.com-Pioneer Press

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Minnesota Book Award-winning writers Wendy Webb and Allen Eskens will debut their new fiction at 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 18, at Wescott Library, 2340 Wescott Road, Eagan. Registration recommended at: dakotacountylibrary.libcal.com/event/8159382.
“This isn’t just a folk tale,” she continued, raising her eyebrows. “It is the story of our family, as far back as we can reach. Calder and Kaija married. They are our ancestors, as alive in hearts today as they were back in the ancient times. Some of you sitting here today do not see the point of the story. To others, it has reached your heart. Kaija and Calder live in you.”
— From “The Keepers of Metsan Valo
Annalise Halla has returned to Metsan Valo, a fortress-like house on an island in Lake Superior. The name means Forest Light in Finnish. Built by Anni’s great-grandparents, the house belonged to her grandmother, Mummo, who has just died. Anni and her twin brother, Theo, grew up listening to their grandmother tell stories of the vaki, little people, and the spirits and demons who live in the nearby woods.
Anni has been living in Paris for 10 years, and has left the professor with whom she shared an apartment. Returning to Metsan Valo was like coming home to her childhood. Her family is gathering to read her grandmothers will, including Arden, other-worldly mother of Anni and Theo, and their mother’s sister, Gloria, who’s introducing them to Charles, a dapper man who seems suspicious from the beginning.
Almost as soon as everyone has gathered, strange things begin to happen to Anni, the new mistress of Metsan Valo, according to her grandmother’s will. There are rustlings and sounds in the woods, Anni and Theo are attacked by a swarm of fireflies, and Anni is sure she sees a procession of moaning ghosts fly by her window.
Meri, the house’s longtime housekeeper, explains that when a new mistress takes over the old house it unsettles the little people, who fear they will be forgotten. She warns Anni that taking on the spirits of Metsan Valo is a fearsome task, as Anni learns on a rainy, windy night when she must placate them.
But real life overshadows the old stories when Arden’s house is vandalized and she nearly drowns, and Gloria is in an automobile accident. Who wants the sisters dead, and why?
Although there are signature Wendy Webb gothic scenes here, this is a gentler book than her previous ones, including “The End of Temperance Dare” and “The Tale of Halcyon Crane,”  Minnesota Book Award winners. The storytelling is more leisurely, and she has never written more lushly about nature. There is also more emphasis on what binds a family together. Maybe that’s because, as Webb writes in her acknowledgments, both her maternal grandparents were Finnish  “and maybe the whole idea was to connect with (her mother’s) heritage.”
When Webb learned that J.R.R. Tolkien took his inspiration for “Lord of the Rings” from the epic Finnish poem the Kalevela, she had never heard that Tolkien learned the Finnish language to read the poem in its original form.
As Webb researched Finnish folktales and legend, she discovered that while the Vikings were raiding and pillaging they left the Finns alone. “Finns were seen as the wizards and witches, the keepers of ancient knowledge, able to control the air and the water and the animals around them,” Webb writes. She thought this was a cool legend and, as writers do, she wondered if that was real.
“The Keepers of Metsan Valo” is the answer she gives to readers. .
Allen Eskens says his seven books, including the Minnesota Book Award winner “The Heavens May Fall,” are not a series but rather “character arcs that revolve around a small community.”
In “The Stolen Hours” his protagonist is Lila Nash, who’s about to land her dream job as a prosecutor working under the Hennepin County Attorney and she’s happy with her boyfriend, Joe Talbert.  But when a woman is pulled from the Mississippi River, barely alive, things become personal and Lila has to confront her own dark past. The police believe the woman’s assailant is a local photographer but he saw this coming and carefully prepared, much to Lila’s chagrin. She is determined to put the guy behind bars, but she’s in a race against an evil mastermind.
Lila was Talbert’s girlfriend in Eskens’ debut novel, “The Life We Bury,” and in “The Shadows We Hide.” The new book takes Lila back to the night when she was 18 years old and survived a viscious attack. Will the ghosts of her past destroy her?
Kirkus Reviews called the book “a rousing legal thriller that’s also an acute study of female victimization and male privilege.”

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