Cover Image: The Violin Conspiracy

The Violin Conspiracy

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Brendan Slocumb's novel, The Violin Conspiracy, is one of my favorite reads of 2022.  Ray McMillan is a black violinist with a dream.  He wants to become a professional violinist.  In the process of realizing his dream, Ray's violin (a priceless Stradivarius) is stolen and a note for ransom is left.  This book is a beautifully written novel that makes you root for the lead character as he attempts to defy all odds and prove to the world the talent that he possesses.
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Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for this ARC digital copy. I was not compensated for this review and all opinions are my own.

Absolutely lovely story for anyone who appreciates music,. The historical elements were done extremely well. My favorite lines were the detailed performance descriptions in which I could feel the music without hearing it. “Together we are a symphony.”

4.5 out of 5 stars and my deepest respect to the author.
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I received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley for an honest review.

I was really excited about this novel. I once was a violin player too, alas, after high school I was too busy with other things, I still hold such great affection for my violin. This novel immediately intrigued me and reminded me of an amazing and not as well known movie, The Red Violin (MUST WATCH!!!). I was VERY excited to read this and it did not take long for me to feel.....judged? Lectured at? Thrown into a political fire rather than be entertained? I do not know how to word it because I do not doubt someone will now be offended and label me as something that I very much am not.

The overarching story was pretty cool with the history of the violin and the families vying for it. I would LOVE to see and hear a Stradivarius in person, I have only ever seen a beautiful one in a museum in DC. This are such amazing and unique instruments and if you don't know the history of them, look it up. It is literally insane chance that has never happened again that made this wood so uniquely and exquistely PERFECT for these instruments. Quite fascinating.

With that, like I said the over-arching story was quite entertaining and when the novel was focusing on that, I enjoyed it. Then other times I felt like I was thrown into a political wildfire that I had no desire to keep reading. But I did. Once we figure out the "who done it" part, I was not really surprised. The ending was a bit meh because there were a lot of loose ends NOT tied up. Like the fund raising, what happened to all that? Or the two different families and their issues? That was just kind of said, they backed off or something and never fully explained. The ending just felt rushed and very happily ever after.

I truly wanted to enjoy this novel, however, I do not like ANY time of novel that focuses on one thing when it is presented and supposed to be about something else. This novel was presented as being about finding this accidental gem as a family heirloom then having it stolen and all of that, and instead I felt like the actual story was overshadowed with politics. Just disappointing. I would have some interest in reading this author's next book, however, I don't want to go into another novel expecting one story and getting another and I am afriad that is going to be this author's writing style. This feels like more of a niche author for his debut novel rather than being able to branch out for many people and genres.
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Ray McMillian is determined to become a professional musician. He’s not going to let anyone stand in his way. When he finds out that his great-grandfather owned a Stradivarius, all his dreams feel more possible. But when it’s stolen, Ray is determined to find it. Odds are not in his favor, but he isn’t going to give up to get back the priceless violin. 

The plot starts off from the first moment. Ray’s violin is gone and he is desperate to find it. I’m hooked, I’m ready to dive in more to see where this is going to go and how he is going to get it back, everything that happens from it. Then it completely changes gears. 

It goes from starting off with the mystery to the past and how he got to that point. This really slowed down the whole story for me. While it is important to get to know more about Ray and where he came from, seeing the racism he faced, taking up nearly the whole book really distracts from the mystery which I thought was going to be a big part of this book. 

After a while, everything started to feel more repetitive. There was part of his family being awful then him facing racism from someone else. The formula that it felt like it followed lessened the impact for me. 

Reading the author’s note, I can’t help but think that this would have been better if it was non-fiction. With the note it seemed like this was based a lot of what he faced while trying to get to the point he is at. With how some elements were neglected, I think this could have been the best course of action. 

The writing also made it hard for me to connect with the characters. Everyone felt weak and flat. I didn’t ever feel a true connection with them and their story, nor could I really feel the impact of the racism beyond the first few ones (as after that it was so repetitive it pulled me out of the story). 

The story of Ray has so much potential. It discusses an important topic, but unfortunately falls flat for me. The mystery might as well not have been there and the formulaic feeling left me longing to feel something for what was going on and to break the mold. The important topics were not enough to really fall in love with this book.
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Ray McMillian is determined to pursue a career as a violinist, despite all the obstacles the classical music world puts in his way as a Black man. After discovering his great-grandfather’s fiddle is actually an authentic Stradivarius, Ray’s dreams suddenly seem reachable. But then the violin is stolen, and Ray is determined to get it back.

WOW. This book is absolutely remarkable. The descriptions of music and the violin are gorgeous, the racism Ray experiences is harrowing, and the mystery is perfectly twisty and turny. I drove everyone in my life nuts talking about this book while I was reading it. What a complete stunner. Don't sleep on it!
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This story explores racism through the lens of a gifted black violinist. His belief in himself, his struggle to become the best he can be, with a multitude of obstacles, in his path. The story of his grandfather's violin, the betrayal of loved ones and the mystery of who took his violin. An excellent and worthwhile read.
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Ray, a classical musician, has always struggled for acceptance as a black man in an overwhelmingly white world. He's overcome incredible difficulty to get to the top of his game, and the reader gets to experience these trials with him via a series of flashbacks. In the present, Ray has recently discovered that his treasured and slightly beat-up violin is actually an incredibly rare Stradivarius. Unfortunately, it has been stolen, and Ray is desperate for its return. The novel moves between past and present, painting an incredibly authentic picture of the life of a musician, particularly as a black man in the classical music world. His voice is authentic, and you'll be rooting for Ray to succeed until the very last page.
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Recommended reading. This debut is a captivating blend: a savvy exploration of race, class, and family wrapped up in a heist novel. Rayquan McMillian is used to being an underdog and an anomaly. A world-class but continually underestimated African American classical violinist from rural North Carolina, he grew up poor but found a precious musical heirloom in his grandmother’s attic. Most days, none of that noise even penetrates Ray’s focus. But just weeks before a career-making international competition, his prized instrument goes missing, and most of the prime suspects are related to him. Thus begins a quest you won’t want to look away from.
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I was so immersed in this story about a Black violinist whose family heirloom violin goes missing before one of the most prestigious violin competitions in the world. It had a beautiful grandmother and scenes that were really tough to read showing what it's like for a young, Black violinist in a very white world. I laughed at parts where he sees "up and coming" violin students and felt touched by one of his interactions with a student. I loved being in the classical music world while reading this book and brought back fond memories of my own 13 years of playing violin. I thought it was fast paced and while I figured out VERY early on who was responsible, the journey to find out how it all played out was a lot of fun. The audiobook narration on this was awesome and made me feel like I was watching a movie
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Definitely one of my favorites this year. Having a story that covers so many areas of intrigue with layers of history regarding music, family, and race relations was a pleasant surprise.  This served as a great introduction to the violin or the classical music scene in general and the details given by the author to support all facets of this story were remarkable.  

5 stars overall
Characters 4/5
Plot: 5/5
Storytelling: 5/5
Enjoyment: 5/5
Intrigue/Interest: 5/5

Thank you to NetGalley and Knopf Doubleday for the ARC.
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I enjoyed listening to the book and the author’s experiences with racism in Classical music are unfortunate. People can do better. I had a feeling about who the violin thief was from the beginning despite some nice red herrings from the author. None of the characters, even Ray and Nicole, felt particularly deep.
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This book is a wonderful debut novel that will be enjoyed by mystery and music aficionados. The author knows his classical music and this adds authenticity to an engaging story.

Ray wants to be a violinist, even if his family lacks enthusiasm for this choice. Ray plays a fiddle that he inherited from a relative; there is more to this instrument than is at first know, but you need to read the book to know what the secret is.

How successful will Ray be? Again, read to find out and to find out the fate of the violin.

Here is a mystery, a thriller, a story with a terrific protagonist, music and a black man navigating the world of classical music. What a combination!

Many thanks to NetGalley and Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group for this title. All opinions are my own.
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This book impressed me, the writing was efficient yet informative which I love.  Characters were properly fleshed out, only as much as they needed to be, no clutter.  I loved Ray's grandma, and his Aunt Rochelle, they were delightful and sweet and I appreciated their support of Ray and his talents.  I also found this more suspenseful than I thought I would simply because I like Ray and I was panicking with him when the violin went missing.  I also didn't even see it coming in the end, which is probably mostly why I was so impressed, they got me!  This was a great read and I recommend it, especially to anyone that likes a mystery with some heart & history, but doesn't like grizzly murder.
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This story grabbed me right away, and I could not read this fast enough! 

The musician in me appreciated the musical aspects of the story. The North Carolina connections were so fun since that's my home state. It was also cool to see the heritage and family aspects of the story the author has crafted. My great-grand uncle was a concert violinist, and this really made me stop and wonder what happened to his violin after he died. I highly recommend this book for anyone, but especially for musicians.

Here's my breakdown:

Characters 4.5/5
Plot: 5/5
Storytelling: 4.5/5
Enjoyment: 5/5
Atmosphere: 5/5
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A debut novel about a young black boy from the south with the dream of becoming a classical violinist.
Slocumb has taken personal experience and threaded it throughout his portrayal of Ray and his quest to be the best .
Well written and full of references to the great composers and musicians in history- there’s even a bit of a mystery.
Excited to see what is next from this talented author.
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I really liked this on about a guy named Ray who had a passion for playing the violin. He wasn't supported by many people though, which I found to be very sad. His violin gets stolen and he is desperate to get it back. It is very monetarily valuable but has more sentimental value to him. A lot of racism was exemplified in the plotline which I struggle with to read, especially when the N-word is used. I understand why, but I still don't like it. I did think that some social issues were dealt with quite well and I appreciated that in the story. I liked the MC a lot and was engaged in the story and what would happen with the violin and I wanted him to get it back so badly. Of course, I will give no spoilers! 

I want to thank NetGalley and the publisher Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group for providing an e-ARC copy for me in exchange for my honest opinion, which I have given.
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What a story! I loved every twist & turn.  I highly recommend. 

I voluntarily reviewed this book.
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This was an interesting story about a stolen violin. I liked the MC and getting to know his life and his world. It wasn't always friendly or pretty. You learn the history of the violin and why it is so important he have it. It was an easy, fast read, a little light in places and does tackle a few relevant issues and I appreciated them being added. It almost felt YA, though.

A huge thank you to the author and publisher for providing an e-ARC via Netgalley. This does not affect my opinion regarding the book.
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There are a number of themes running through the book all revolving around. a young black gifted musician, a priceless violin, prejudice, and two families who couldn't be more different.  Ray McMillan is a young black man with a love of classical music and an amazing natural talent.  When his grandmother gives him an old family fiddle, that turns out to be a rare Stradivarius, two families begin to fight over the instrument's true ownership while Ray rises higher and higher in the elite world of classical music.  The night before one of the world's most prestigious competitions, the violin is stolen and replaced with a ransom note. Anxiety is high, suspects are plenty and Ray works diligently to find his violin.  There are twists, turns and a somewhat surprise ending.  There is an amazingly scary run in with police. Ray is a well. written character worthy of respect.  His Grandmother and his violin teacher are equally likable and nurture his talent. The rest of his family is not so supportive.  Solid story that has wide appeal.
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The Violin Conspiracy is a good book; it could have been a great book.  The reader is welcomed into the story with the discovery of a violin theft.  It is not just any violin it is a rare violin worth more than the millions it is insured for - it is worth a man's heritage.  The violin was passed down from his great-great grandfather who received it from a man who used to own him (and was possibly his father) to his grandmother to him.  The violin was discarded and uncared for until it comes into Ray's possession after a thorough search which netted nothing.  On Christmas day it comes to him as the last gift handed to him from his grandmother.  It looks in poor shape, it is dirty and looks worthless.  Despite this, Ray brings it to get fixed to a small place in the local mall where Ray faces racism and profiling.  Despite this, he moves on.  It isn't until years later he discovers the true monetary worth of the violin.  This opens the door to the greed of his family, and the ancestors of the original owners of the violin.  It comes with a history of sadness and grief; it comes with the story of hope, and respect and love of music.  It is vital the violin be found. We travel from today to yesterday to walk along the journey this young man has taken.  He faces racism, and terrible treatment from ignorant, nasty people and situations.  His own family is self-centered, uncaring, and out for themselves.  All of this background information is important but overwhelming the reader with details that leave the conspiracy and the story of the theft behind.  I skipped to the end, and then I went back to the middle of the book to start over again.  The best part of the book was almost to the end when the conspiracy unravels. I wish the book had concentrated more on this part of the book.  The ending was also good, and uplifting.  In my opinion, there could have been two books - the story of the violin and its history including Ray's part of the story, and then we have the second story of the violin's theft. This story would have the backstory of how Ray met Nicole, how Nicole came up with the plan to take the violin, her story with her boyfriend.  I know that the history of the violin is important to the story, the racism, and the struggles Ray faced are major however if there were two books we would have better development of each part of the two stories versus one story that was overwhelming with details and at the same time not enough details.
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