Gold Medal, 2012 ForeWord Book of the Year Awards
Finalist, 25th Annual Lambda Literary Awards
Top 10, LaunchPad Manuscript Competition
Finalist, Regional Fiction Category, 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Awards
Finalist, 2012 Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary Contest
Hardened beyond his nineteen years, Todd Webster Morgan is determined to find gold high in the Sierra Nevadas. But his dream is violently upended. Complicating matters even more, he meets a young Chinese immigrant named Lâo Jian, whose own dreams of finding gold have been quashed by violence.
But life back in Sacramento isn’t any easier. Todd’s mother struggles to make ends meet. His invalid uncle becomes increasingly angry. Todd seeks employment with little success. Meanwhile his friendship with Lâo Jian turns to love. But their relationship is strained as anti-Chinese sentiment grows.
Todd vows not to lose Lâo Jian. The couple must risk everything to make a life for themselves. A life that requires facing fear and prejudice head on.
“Brennessel not only gives us a love story but also a look at this country during a trying period and the emergence of California. We also get a look at racism in the way the Chinese in this country are regarded.
Brennessel has done his homework and research well. Without giving away any of the details of the plot, the ending of the story left me wiped out. The writer is not only a wonderful story teller but he has also provided us with two wonderfully drawn characters thus giving us a read that will not be soon forgotten.”
–Reviews by Amos Lassen
“’The Celestial’” is a rather sweet story, with a very emphatically happily-ever-after ending. I’m giving it four stars.”
–Review by Michael Joseph for Speak Its Name
I loved reading this novel. It has a compelling story, believable characters, and artful writing. Todd, the narrator, says this about a young man he meets in the mountains (before he runs into Lao Jian): “It was like staring into a meadow in springtime, and your eyes just don’t want to work themselves free of the colors when the wildflowers dance in the breeze.”
Regarding both Chinese and Irish immigrants, Todd says, “The law sure took umbrage when the criminal was a foreigner, but looked the other way when the foreigner was a victim.”
The short last chapter is one of the finest epilogues I’ve read. The first line alone, a date, found me wiping my eyes so that I could read on.
— Review by Ron Fritsch for Rainbow Book Reviews
“The Celestial is an impressive and remarkable story of a young man finding his way during life in California in the 1870s. Barry Brennessel skillfully brings to life an explosive period of time in American history through the characters of Todd Webster Morgan, his family, and his lover, Lao Jian.
Barry Brennessel packs a lot of life as well as history into this superlative story. Do not pass this book by. If you are not a fan of historical writing, this might make you one. If you are one already, this book will climb to the top of the pile. This book was a Finalist, 2012 Pacific Northwest Writers’ Association Literary Contest. It deserves that recognition and so much more.”
–Melanie for Joyfully Jay Reviews
“This book is a serious, thought provoking historical romance which showcases the diversity of this author’s talents.
If you like historicals, especially those in an unusual setting such as this one, then I highly recommend The Celestial to you as a wonderful read. Grade: Excellent.”
–Jenre, Well Read Reviews
“A heart-warming story about love conquering prejudice, supported by a truly Dickensian cast.
The Celestial is a wonderful, heart-warming book told with considerable flair. There’s just enough historical detail to ground the reader in a time and place, and those details are woven through the story in a sparse yet evocative way, bringing the places to life yet never overshadowing the characters and the story.
…a very fine story with a lot of colour and interest, a strong and likeable voice and a host of memorable characters. Warmly recommended.“
–Reviews by Jessewave
“Beautifully written with characters that live and breathe off of the written page, The Celestial is an epic adventure filled with romance, heartbreak, joy and of course hope. I loved every minute of this book and it’s earned a top spot on my keeper shelf where I know I’ll re-read it many times in the future. Highly Recommended!”
—Top 2 Bottom Reviews
“It’s unanimous: Barry Brennessel’s novel The Celestial is a great story! Todd and Lâo Jian persevere primarily because of the strength and love they derive from one another, and this is the inspirational theme that underlies the whole story. Highly recommended.”
— Gerry Burnie, Gerry B.’s Book Reviews
“Barry Brennessel’s The Celestial isn’t just a good read, it’s a wonderful experience. I felt as though I had traveled in time to the period of the gold rush and the westward movement across the North American continent.
This book is gently told and made me feel good just from reading it. This was my first book by Barry Brennessel but he immediately became a must read for me.”
“The rich historical detail of early California life and the tender love story of our two gay pioneers in The Celestial make it an easy choice as a Lambda finalist for Gay Romance.”
—Book Lovers, Lambda Literary Review
Beautifully named, The Celestial is a wonderful read from start to finish. Todd Webster Morgan’s voice makes for an authentic, earthy, and realistic narrative throughout. I loved how interested he was in other cultures at a time when foreigners were more than frowned upon. Lao Jian is never short-changed by not having a POV. He is lovely, has such humour, dignity, and I thought he was written with much respect. Overall, the writing is empathetic, with an elegant ease, and economical use of words, yet so layered and full of meaning. The epilogue is something special. It is also an historical story that captures the essence of 1870′s California without a heavy hand. There’s a message about the harsh realities of the world, prejudices, and ignorance. But mostly, there are messages about acceptance, tolerance and seeing people for who they are; people – no matter where they come from, the colour of their skin, or who they love. Ever-timely messages. Highly recommended reading for anyone aged fourteen to…one hundred and fourteen!
—Kazza K. for On Top Down Under Book Reviews
Hooray for Todd Webster Morgan and all his stubborn, adorable, loving ways! We see how he follows his heart in all he does. We see the sweet interest between two young men gently sway to fondness, then attraction and then love.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Celestial and will happily read more of Brennessel’s work.
—Xing, for Boys in Our Books
Finalist, 2014 Rainbow Awards
Finalist, 2013 ForeWord Book of the Year Awards
Finalist, 2013 Pacific Northwest Writers’ Association Literary Contest (“Ezra”)
Adrian Stockwell and Ezra Cherevin both battle the fallout from their broken families. Yet each one’s strategy is as different as each one’s past. Adrian’s childhood was left void by apathy; Ezra’s upended by violence. The written word soon becomes their therapy, their escape. This shared passion for literature is the vehicle that brings them together.
But their journey is filled with personal and familial potholes.
Can these two young men carve out a life together by learning to navigate a sea of challenges? And can the people in their lives do the same?
If you don’t read any other part of this book, and I’m not sure why you would not read it, you have to read the stories a younger Adrian wrote at Pembrooke School for Boys. The kerfuffle it caused – Barry Brennessel has short stories within the story to convey Adrian’s feelings, the way he vented – and the wonderful epistolary back and forth section of Chapter 8 ‘Then sudden waxed wroth…’ is clever, biting and telling all at once.
Paradise at Main & Elm is a literary piece of writing, but it is easy to read and not the least bit pretentious or pompous. It is LGBTQ, but at its heart is life, family and all its myriad difficulties. And that sometimes some people have a hard time. But it can work out pretty okay in a realistic fashion. Fractured souls can find one another in amongst the fracas of life and gain great comfort, solace and love.
—Kazza K. for On Top Down Under Book Reviews
I found this book quite intriguing. It’s a snapshot that illustrates who the characters are, backed up with flashbacks that show what went into making them who they are.
I really liked both Ezra and Adrian. They are two young men, both struggling with issues that have formed them. You can’t help but think that maybe that’ll be easier for them to do together, by the support and understanding they each give to the other. While their interactions together weren’t many, they were very sweet and I really loved them.
—Booksmitten for Live Your Life, Buy the Book
[Paradise at Main and Elm] is a look at two men who try to find their place in this world while dealing with their pasts. We meet a large cast of characters and we see how they came to be who they are.
Brennessel is quite a good writer. This is not the first book of his that I have read and he is the kind of writer that deals with characters beautifully—so much so that I feel like I have made friends with many of them.
— Reviews by Amos Lassen
The comfort these young men are able to provide for each other and the safety they find together just made me smile. The way Mr. Brennessel wrote them, it was apparent that they were made for each other. Whether he wrote them that way or muse made him do it, it was a beautiful pairing. It was worth the extra time to read and figure out the italics, because they gave vast insight into Ezra and Adrian and why they are who they are. It will take patience, but I highly recommend this book.
–Tina for The Novel Approach
So perfectly written, this novel was downright beautiful. I found myself starting it and never wanting it to end. I wanted nothing more than for Adrian and Ezra to be together. And when they did get together, I leapt with joy.
—Eric for MM Good Book Reviews
Aiden Royce’s journey to an isolated New England hillside raises specters from his past.
But a chance encounter alters the course of his future. A future he never dreamt possible.
In the span between the Great War and the Great Depression, Aiden Royce loses both family and fortune. He has nothing left but memories and regrets until a series of letters arrive; ramblings written by a familiar hand that nevertheless offer Aiden some important clues. Months later he’s roaming the grounds of the crumbling Cebren Spa, a once posh destination, but now an empty shell of mystery and menace.
One saving grace in this perplexity is the handsome Sebastian Desmond, a descendant of the spa’s founders. He rescues Aiden from a storm, but in doing so opens up a different sort of tempest when secrets unravel and both men’s lives are torn asunder.
Can decades-old questions be answered, onerous mysteries solved, and a burgeoning and venturesome romance prosper in the shadows of a once restorative wellspring?
The writing of Wellspring is beautiful and atmospheric – the snow, the storms, sounds. The mood of America in regards to WWI, the sentiment was used well – it suited certain families and the plot perfectly.
The writing is intelligent, elegant, poignant and empathetic. [The author] writes characters who are everyday people dealing with unforeseen events and circumstances. They have an adventure one way or another, but they are not alpha heroes or larger than life, they’re often quite gentle, introverted or conflict aversive. However, they always seem to experience something personal and profound.
Highly recommended for people who are looking for LGBT fiction with beautiful, layered writing, and something historical with a mystery.
—Kazza K. for On Top Down Under Book Reviews
The construction of the plot shows the wonderful thought and writing skills of Bressennel, the author. He keeps us turning pages and putting on our detective hats as we try to figure out what is happening and why. His ability to move between past and present is wonderful and the way he ties them together will have you read with mouth agape. I found it easy to understand why Thad wrote in such detail because the author does as well; the descriptions are vivid and we actually see what is written. He also has drawn characters that seem vague thus heightening the mystery.
While basically set during the Depression, the story also spans WWI, WWII and the Korean War. The literary characters are important but the main character is the spa since everything revolves around it.
–Reviews by Amos Lassen
The setting of the decaying mysterious Cebren Spa was perfect! From the danger of its structural problems, to its history and purpose, and of course Sebastian’s fear of it, I just knew it was always going to be critical to the story, a central character if you will.
Wellspring is an engrossing, twisting, surprising mystery that will leave you guessing until the end.
–Gigi for MM Good Book Reviews
If you don’t read this book you will miss out on one helluva great read with puzzles galore and a sweet slow romance in a picturesque New England setting. If I did stars, this book would get 6 out of 5.
—Christopher Moss, That’s All I Read
Finalist, 24th Annual Lambda Literary Awards
Honorable Mention, 2011 Rainbow Awards
Best Surprise of 2013, Boys in Our Books
Micah Malone is just an average college student with an ordinary life and big dreams. And an intense passion for film and TV. And a Greek Chorus in his head.
His friends create more drama than a soap opera.
His love life needs a laughtrack.
Can Micah ultimately find the direction he needs?
Let the cameras roll.
Micah’s quirky story has begun filming.
“Barry Brennessel has written a wonderful novel. He creates a wonderful circle of friends that are imperfect but balance the group. I cried and laughed while reading this book and I look forward to many more novels from Barry.”
–Vonda for Top 2 Bottom Reviews
“Micah is actually rather a charming narrator who suffers a little from low self confidence when it comes to looks, and a general apathy about his studies and his life. In other words he’s a bit of a typical college student: rather self-absorbed, easily distracted and fond of socialising. That the author also manages to make him sympathetic and generally likeable is proof of the quality of the characterisation. I thoroughly enjoyed being taken on the journey of Micah’s road to love. If you want to read something light-hearted and witty with a very likeable hero, then I’d recommend Tinseltown.”
—Jenre, Well Read Reviews
Barry Brennssel’s debut novel, TINSELTOWN, has to be the most quirky, charming romance this reader has read in a long time. Never has a character felt more like a Woody Allen character in print in Mr Brennessel’s laugh out loud, sexy modern romance. The ever-adorable Micah Malone, complete with internal Greek Chorus, struggles to make his way in life and love. It is well worth the read as the story and characters are just too loveable to not give a chance. Kick back, relax and enjoy the show, TINSELTOWN style!
—Jenn for The Romance Reviews
“This novel was a delightful experience, like a cup of chocolate with whipped cream above in a winter afternoon, and I will add also, in front of a fireplace. The novel reads a lot like one of my every time favourite, Almost like Being in Love by Steve Kluger; the narrative voice breaks the plot in “scenes” and he introduces the characters as “roles”; sometime the same characters directly speak to the reader, giving their own account of the same scene. There is even a Greek Chorus, advising Micah for the best, and 2 different therapists who will sometime bring back Micah on track when he needs to tell the reader is own story; the state of art account of a 21 years old gay boy whose life has not yet routed on the right track. Micah had a more than advantage starting point, a supporting family, a circle of friends who are always there, ready to help and advice, and a set of assets (good looks, creativeness and positive attitude) that will give him the chance to a more than positive future… if he is able to understand what is really important in life and who is the right man for him.”
“The characters are real and very unique, their sense of humor bursting from each page, but even with all the teasing it was clear that they care. The sad parts of this book made me cry which is not an easy thing to do and I have to say it was done beautifully. This book is very special and I am certain it will find many fans among the readers.”
–Hearts on Fire Reviews
“I was pulled into the book from the very first page because of the character of Micah and also because the book is so well written. This is a bit different from other gay novels as it basically deals with a guy and his friends as they try to maneuver their way through life. The author has drawn some wonderful characters and when he puts dialogue into their mouths, the whole book comes alive.”
—Reviews by Amos Lassen
“In Tinseltown, you are taken on a wild ride through the life and mind of film student Micah. As crazy as each piece of the puzzle is, you find yourself caught up in having to know what happens next. Tinseltown by Barry Brennessel was humorous and sad. But mostly, it was Micah’s story, and told from a unique perspective that makes me want to read more by Mr. Brennessel.”
—Jaymes in The Reader’s Roundtable
Micah, the narrator, most enjoyably sprinkles witty references at appropriate points throughout his story. In Tinseltown, they add to the story and advance the plot. And they often made me laugh out loud—literally.
So this amusing story goes in its first half. In the second, though, Brennessel suddenly drops a bomb. I never saw it coming, and I doubt any other reader will. And yet it’s appropriate and meaningful—and through an ‘amazing,’ as they say, number of subsequent pages on my Kindle left me in tears.
And it brings front and center two additional heavy loads (pun not intended, honestly) for Micah to bear. What was a highly entertaining novel becomes profound. Can Micah learn that searching for perfection in a partner, himself, or the world he lives in isn’t the way to go?
I highly recommend Tinseltown to any reader who wishes to savor entertainment and thought in the same delectable dish.
–Ron Fritsch for Rainbow Book Reviews
“At its heart, it is the story of Micah Malone — in many ways typical gay young man, but also with a (somewhat/at times) atypical storyline. Micah tends to be quite melodramatic and campy, but that’s what you gotta love about him. He has a very original voice and his film and TV obsession is shown through obscure references throughout the story.
This book had me doubled over laughing.”
–Cole, The Armchair Reader
Tinseltown is very much an encounter with a character and very special.
For my part, it was a puzzling, lively, funny, sweet, sad, cute (Micah’s favorite word) whirlwind that I loved being sucked in.
—Sid Love’s Blog