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The Violin Conspiracy

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The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb explored the issues of racism and discrimination that so many young black males encountered over the years and are still encountering. The author drew upon his own background and experiences to write this novel and in doing so made The Violin Conspiracy so believable. Brendan Slocumb is not only a master storyteller but also a talented musician. This winning combination contributed to helping him make The Violin Conspiracy a book that was hard to put down and so enjoyable. It was fast paced and the characters were well developed. The protagonist, Ray McMillian, was likable and made me want to see him succeed in his endeavors and find a way to overcome all the negativity he encountered. The Violin Conspiracy was an inspiring and heartfelt coming of age novel. It portrayed how Ray dealt with and handled the unjust hatred and prejudice that surrounded him.

Ray Mcmillian grew up in North Carolina and was the oldest child in his family. His mother was not at all supportive or encouraging toward Ray. When Ray began playing the violin in the school orchestra he was often forbidden to practice in his own house and had to tolerate all of his mother’s negativity and discouragement about his dreams to become a professional violinist. Since his family was very poor, Ray was forced to rent a violin from his school that needed to be returned at the end of the school year. The one highlight in Ray’s life was his visits to his Grandma Nora’s house each year. His grandmother was his biggest and maybe his only fan. Grandma Nora recognized the talent Ray had at playing the violin and encouraged him every chance she had. On one visit, over Thanksgiving, Ray confessed to Grandma Nora about the way he had been treated and looked upon by some white people even when his talent was far superior to those he played violin with. Grandma Nora gave Ray some advice that day that he would remember for the rest of his life. She told him “You work twice as hard. Even three times. For the rest of your life. It’s not fair, but that’s how it is. Some people will always see you as less than they are. So you have to be twice as good as them!” She went on to say, “You hold your head up high, and you keep doing what you do. You get good grades. You play your music. You find your goal, and you go after it. You be proud of who you are. You never, ever forget that your grandma is proud of you, so proud her heart could just about burst from it. Don’t ever apologize for being who you are or let someone make you feel bad for being Black.” During that visit, Grandma Nora also shared some family history with Ray. Grandma Nora’s PopPop played his fiddle when his grandma was a young girl and she delighted in hearing him play. Grandma Nora believed that Ray inherited his talent for playing the violin from her PopPop, Ray’s great-great PopPop. She told Ray that PopPop’s fiddle was somewhere in the attic and if he could find it he could keep it for himself. Ray took on the task of finding his great-great PopPop’s fiddle. It was no easy task, though. After days and days of searching, he finally found it. That violin would change the course of Ray’s life. Although it appeared as beat up violin that had lay abandoned for decades in his grandmother’s attic, he would later discover that it was a priceless and rare Stradivarius. 

Ray’s talent soared as he began to play his PopPop’s fiddle. He was determined to enter the renowned Tchaikovsky Competition that was held every four years in Moscow. One month prior to the competition, Ray’s beloved violin was stolen. What would he do now? He had been preparing for the contest for the last six months. How could he compete without his PopPop’s fiddle? How could it have disappeared from his hotel room? In the place where his precious violin had been was a ransom note that demanded an exorbitant amount of money. How could Ray get that much cash to pay the ransom? Would Ray have to forfeit his place in the Tchaikovsky Competition? 

The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb was an inspiring and heartfelt story about Ray’s journey to pursue his dream of becoming a classical violinist in a symphony orchestra. Brendan Slocumb, in his author’s note, expressed and noted what a small percentage of Black musicians played in classical symphonies. The cards were stacked against Ray from the beginning. Would Ray’s grandma’s words from that Thanksgiving celebration help him achieve his goal? The Violin Conspiracy presented a lot of the challenges Black classical musicians face. I loved Ray’s character and how he always stayed true to what was important to him and persevered no matter how hard or uncomfortable things got. The Violin Conspiracy was Brendan Slocumb’s debut novel. I can’t wait to read his next book. I really enjoyed reading The Violin Conspiracy and highly recommend it.

Thank you to Anchor Books for allowing me to read The Violin Conspiracy through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
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This was a unique plot, and I enjoyed it.  Though not musically inclined, I also enjoyed the focus on various musical pieces.
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“Alone, we are a solitary violin, a lonely flute, a trumpet singing in the dark. Together, we are a symphony.” Brendan Slocumb, The Violin Conspiracy.

Black violin prodigy Ray McMillian loves playing more than anything, and nothing will stop him from pursuing his dream of becoming a professional musician. Not his mother, who thinks he should get a real job, not the fact that he can’t afford a high-caliber violin, not the racism inherent in the classical music world. And when he makes the startling discovery that the violin he inherited from his great-grandfather, a freed slave, is actually a priceless Stradivarius, his star rises. Then, on the eve of the prestigious Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, his prized instrument is stolen. 

The Violin Conspiracy is a highly original debut; in fact, I can’t think of another book I’ve ever read about classical music. Part thriller, part coming-of-age, racial commentary, it is a fascinating look at professional classical music by an author who knows what he’s talking about. Brendan Slocum served as the concertmaster for the University Symphony orchestra and principal violist at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and has been a public and private school K-12 music educator for over twenty-three years. 

Although I enjoyed learning more about classical music, the violin in particular, Slocum got into too much detail about playing the instrument. His writing was solid, and he a did fine job managing a dual timeline, but he could use a bit more polishing, and a little more showing instead of telling. One aspect of Ray’s character was frustrating. At times he sounded like a kid from the “hood,” full of street-laced slang and cuss words, but then he would be unexpectedly articulate. His swearing and childish thoughts/comments were unnecessary and detracted from his intelligent character. I figured out the mystery long before it was revealed, it was a wonderful read by a talented author all the same. Recommended. 4 stars.
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What a remarkable story!  I couldn't put this book down--it captured my attention and imagination from beginning to end.  It's the story of Ray McMillian working tirelessly to become a world-renown violinist.   As a black musician, he is bombarded by racism and family struggle that any person would find hard to combat..  As if those issues were not enough to contend with, his beloved and irreplaceable violin is stolen and the intrigue begins.
The writing is so amazingly intense.  The episodes of racial injustice is so well documented and reflects the stories you read about today.  
What especially stands out is the author's love of music.  His description of the various pieces of famous music allowed a layman, like myself, to feel like an aficionado.  His passion for music was evident on every page and made you want to get tickets to a concert.  
Can't forget the chase to find the stolen violin.  Great twist on who actually did it!
Wonderful book--can't wait for the author's next one!
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The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb

Thanks to NetGalley and Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Anchor for a complimentary digital ARC for my honest review. Also thanks to Dewey Divas and Dudes.

I really enjoyed this book. The plot and characters were well developed, especially Ray, the main character. We see how he overcame many obstacles to flourish as a Black virtuoso violinist in the overwhelmingly white world of classical music. He shows us the journey he took to become successful. 

Very inspirational! I look forward to reading the next book by this author.
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A mystery laced with coming of age and racism. The characters were very well developed and the book will capture your attention from the start. If you'd like to explore the world of classical music through this lens, I highly recommend.
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This was and engaging and enjoyable "detective" story.  Learn about violins, concert competitions, and more.  Characters are well done and the plot is believable rather than contrived.  The reader is quickly engaged.
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I really liked this one! I was immediately drawn into Ray and his world, I furiously turned the pages to know more about him and thought the mystery was almost secondary for me.
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A mystery regarding a missing, valuable Violin.
A story describing racism and prejudice.
A depiction of a family focused on greed.

The Violin Conspiracy was so well written, I could not put this one down. While the book begins focused on the missing violin, it quickly jumps back in time to describe events that took place that lead to this event.

I'm a lover of mysteries but honestly, I was sucked into the story of Ray, his talent and his struggles as he grew into an amazing violinist and while the mystery of the missing violin was always in the back of my mind, I really was just interested in what happened next to Ray.

This read is for anyone that can appreciate a wonderful story - basically, everyone!! 4.5 stars rounded up to 5!
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Ray McMillan, a professional violinist who happens to be black, has a rare violin stolen from him. This story reveals a dark underbelly of micro-aggressions and racism in the classical world. I'd recommend this book to anyone with an interest in this history or in musical history.
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The Violin Conspiracy is an international crime mystery with links to Erie and Fairview, Pennsylvania. Brendan Slocumb writes a page-turning store of a young man in North Carolina whose grandmother gives him a fiddle found in the attic. The fiddle has its own history with slavery. After careful cleaning and inspection, the fiddle is discovered to be a rare Stradivarius violin and Ray McMillian is its owner. As Ray prepares for an international competition, the violin is stolen. The plot unwinds details how Ray's family clamors after the millions of dollars the instrument is worth and the instrument's history. The plot also unravels Ray's personal challenges as he climbs out of poverty through music and finds himself competing at the highest international level. The Violin Conspiracy is a good read that deserves to be talked about by many. Good choice for book discussion groups.
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A complex mystery, with an interesting main character. I read it so long ago, though, that I can't remember details to provide background.
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The Good Morning America book club pick is a fast summer read for adults and YA looking for drama, mystery, and a rare glimpse into the contemporary world of classical music. From the point of view of a poor Black boy in rural North Carolina, roadblocks to his dream come from all parts of his life, from his own family to his great great grandfatherʻs slave ownerʻs descendants.

His gift and dream are invisible or unappreciated by everyone but his grandmother who gives him her grandfatherʻs fiddle. When they find out that this heirloom is actually a Stradivarius, everyone comes out of the wood work claiming ownership. And then itʻs stolen and held for ransom. 

Ray's downward spiral starts at the realization that his violin has been stolen and it leads him to depression and madness while still trying to raise money for the ransom.  In between chasing down leads, Ray continues to prepare (on a different violin)  for the Tchaikovsky Competition, an international competition where only one American pianist has won and no Black musician has ever won. This is a tight read of invisibility, racism, greed and loneliness.

From the Publisher:

Growing up Black in rural North Carolina, Ray McMillian’s life is already mapped out. But Ray has a gift and a dream—he’s determined to become a world-class professional violinist, and nothing will stand in his way. Not his mother, who wants him to stop making such a racket; not the fact that he can’t afford a violin suitable to his talents; not even the racism inherent in the world of classical music. 
When he discovers that his beat-up, family fiddle is actually a priceless Stradivarius, all his dreams suddenly seem within reach, and together, Ray and his violin take the world by storm. But on the eve of the renowned and cutthroat Tchaikovsky Competition—the Olympics of classical music—the violin is stolen, a ransom note for five million dollars left in its place. Without it, Ray feels like he's lost a piece of himself. As the competition approaches, Ray must not only reclaim his precious violin, but prove to himself—and the world—that no matter the outcome, there has always been a truly great musician within him.

Author: Brendan Slocumb
Publisher: Anchor
Publication date: February 1, 2022
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The Violin Conspiracy is an outstanding debut novel about racism in the classical music world and a stolen heirloom violin. It is clear that the author has an educational background in music. This is a story about much more than a stolen violin. We witness discrimination, racism, micro-aggressions, and the slave history in the main character's family. This was an incredibly well-written and thought-provoking novel with an intriguing concept at the center of the plot. Highly recommended!!
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This is a sad story. I would love to hear this guy play. I’m musically inclined, able to play woodwind instruments, but I can’t play string instruments at all. 

The racism and horrible family this man had to endure because he loved to play the violin is ridiculous. No human should have to deal with this on a daily basis. I know it happens, I’m not blind or ignorant, but I still believe no one should be treated this way. 

This book is is a great example of how people are profiled just on the color of their skin rather than their actions. My husband wants our 11 yr old son to read this so he’s aware of how cruel the world can be. 

I highly recommend this book.
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🎻 “Until then, he'd been a solitary, lonely kid and then a solitary, lonely man - who had had one special person in his life, dressed in a pink housecoat and smelling of lavender and bluing solution in her hair. She had gone, but she had given him music, and music had filled his world, that allowed him to connect with people in a way that he sometimes could not believe could ever be real. But now she was gone, and the violin had gone, and the music had gone, and he felt so lonely and guilty now that he often thought the misery would paralyze him and he would simply, suddenly, stop breathing under the weight of it."

What a fun book! I’ve been playing the violin for 16 years so as soon as I heard about this new release, I knew I had to pick it up. Brendan Slocumb’s debut novel tells the story of Ray, a Black professional violinist, and the theft of his family heirloom Stradivarius.

While the book is marketed as a mystery - and there is the “conspiracy” aspect of the theft - it is really more of an ode to the power of music, family, and perseverance. Slocumb uses personal anecdotes from his decades as a Black violinist to write Ray’s experiences with racism and preconceived notions about who classical music is and is not made for.

I really enjoyed this read - it brought me through a range of emotions and still give that little thrill of a mystery solved at the end!
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Tragically beautiful story about music, race and passion. This book has a lot of musical background, which I found interesting, but for me it was the story of the characters that kept me invested. Well done!
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I received this book as an ARC from NetGalley.

Ray is a Black classical musician...a rarity in that industry. He faces discrimination, not only in the music world, but as he travels around to various concert venues. He inherits a beat-up violin from his grandmother. Imagine his surprise and delight when he discovers that the violin is actually a Stradivarius! Then...imagine his anguish when he discovers that his prize instrument has been stolen and he has to compete using an inferior violin!

Melding the author's true life experiences and love of music with a fictional mystery, this book is a real page turner. It covers issues from slavery to current discrimination, family problems, and inheritance battles. Each incident is told with clarity and compassion.
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The Violin Conspiracy was a bit of a slow burn for me, but I appreciated the author’s passion for music and was introduced to the racism that exists in classical music.  I felt it lacked in the “mystery” department, as it was pretty clear who the villain was early on. The real story for me was in the relationship between Ray and his family and also the relationship he had with music. Seeing him persevere through hard experiences for his love of music and his violin kept me engaged and entertained.
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A mystery that was so well written. It took me a few times to start this one as I keep putting it down for another book but once I got into the book at 1/3 way through I was completely into the story. A great mystery.
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