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Review: The Wattle Seed Inn by Léonie Kelsall

on July 9, 2021

The Wattle Seed Inn
Léonie Kelsall
Allen & Unwin
2021, 416p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}: Three aching hearts, a ramshackle country pub and a tangled web of secrets.

PR executive Gabrielle Moreau knows she has an easy life, but when her business partner claims she lacks career passion she takes ownership of a dilapidated pub in a tiny riverside settlement to prove she can be a success without falling back on her privilege.

Eighteen months ago, Settlers Bridge stonemason Hayden Paech had it all: a job he loved, good mates and a close family. All he needed was the right woman to come along, and he was ready to settle down. But one poor choice stole that chance and he’ll never risk caring for anyone again.

Living at Wurruldi Hotel for … goodness, so many years, Ilse has seen more changes of ownership than she can recall. Clinging to her failing memories, she’s tired of trying to protect the property her grandparents built. With the arrival of the elegant Gabrielle Moreau, however, it seems that finally an owner may recognise the importance of recapturing the grace and dignity of Ilse’s past.

For Ilse to find peace, Hayden forgiveness and Gabrielle her true passion, three aching hearts must reveal their secrets. 

I absolutely adored Léonie Kelsall’s first novel, The Farm At Peppertree Crossing, so I was so excited to read this. It’s set in the same area and readers of that first book will probably be happy to see quite a few familiar faces peppering this story, including Matt and Roni.

Three years ago, Gabrielle Moreau and her then-fiance and business partner, bought an old pub. Since then there’s been an earthquake that caused a little damage but Gabrielle now owns the pub outright and is determined to restore it to its former glory and hopefully, find her passion. On her first night in town, she meets a bunch of locals in a different pub and is drawn into their close knit friendship group. Even better, two of them have skills she desperately needs to help restore her building – her vision is for an inn rather than a pub.

Hayden Paech is damaged in more ways than one. Without his friends badgering him to stay part of the group, to go out, to live, he’d probably be a hermit, just his service dog for company. He and Gabrielle do not hit it off well due to an assumption on Gabrielle’s part and her wariness of his dog but the more time they spend together, the more something simmers between them.

I really loved the way this is told – the narrative is split between three perspectives: Gabrielle, Hayden and also Ilse, who lived most of her life in and around the pub and it was held her in family for generations. Gabrielle is from the city and is also from a wealthy background so she’s used to life being a certain way, things happening when you’re ready to offer money for services. Life in the country is different – contractors are quite happy to say they don’t work out that far or will come out when they’re ready, to give a quote. When she meets the group of locals and is able to hire cabinet maker Justin and stonemason Hayden, she also finds that friendly Sharna is willing to pitch in and Gabrielle can even do some of the work herself.

Gabrielle and Hayden get off to a prickly start, for a few reasons. Hayden is a character that is absolutely radiating with pain – both physically and mentally, which he tries to hide. His friends, especially Taylor, the local doctor, are always checking on his welfare and making sure he’s doing okay and the thoughts and nightmares aren’t getting on top of him. Hayden is suffering from PTSD and he has his service dog, who recognises the signs that Hayden might be experiencing times of high stress, and to wake him from nightmares and provide comfort. The support that the dog provides was showcased so well – he was such a part of the story he was almost a main character himself and not only does he provide that comfort and security for Hayden, looking after him when required but he also helps Gabrielle overcome her fear and wariness of dogs.

Hayden and Gabrielle both had some trauma, grief and loss in their past – and are still dealing with the after-effects of that. Hayden has a lot of guilt, for things that are not his fault. It can be hard to bear but sometimes a tragedy is just that…a tragedy. I think Gabrielle can understand those feelings because she’s had similar ones herself. I really appreciated the way their friendship developed from this snarkiness to this deep understanding of each other and all their parts. Before the end of the book, Hayden and Gabrielle have seen each other’s deep vulnerabilities, scars and raw wounds and are the stronger for it and that was something I really enjoyed reading. There’s no suggestion that this developing relationship will ‘fix’ Hayden, will change things for him but he’ll have support and love from a different direction, when he needs it.

I also really loved Ilse’s chapters. I don’t think her story is hard to discern even in the beginning but I felt it was done in a way that really worked and the slow reveal of all the parts of her story was well crafted. It gave the reader a chance to view the inn’s history, see how it had shaped lives and how Gabrielle was bringing it back.

You don’t have to have read the first book in order to read this one – it stands alone really well. But if you have read one and not the other (no matter which way it is) then I highly recommend you read both because they are both wonderful.


Book #115 of 2021

The Wattle Seed Inn is book #48 of the Australian Women Writer Challenge 2021

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