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The Violin Conspiracy

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I requested this book to be a buddy read with my partner. It had a far off publication date at the time. So, by the time it was this book's turn, I had totally forgotten the details. This book is about what? I never played an instrument and don't listen to classical music. Why did I pick this again?

And then it blew me away. You are immediately absorbed into Ray's struggles, heartaches, and passion. The mystery isn't mysterious. I figured out the perpetrator when it happened. The details at the end fleshed out the details. But, it didnt matter. So many other crimes had happened against Ray by that point that it almost felt beside the point. 

Also, the violin had a bit of the "magic feather" quality to it. Its absence allowed him to really fly on his own. It also had so many other roles to play.

The real story here is Ray's journey and there are so many pieces. The pull of the practical, in whatever form that takes, against the long-shot dream, in whatever form that takes. The violin here is the beauty you miss by being overly tied to the practical and also the opportunities you miss. What does it take to be able to reach beyond the practical? This is universal, but especially poignant with the tie to enslavement in America. 

I cant go into it more without giving too much away. This is an unexpectedly beautiful book and you should pick it up. 

Thank you to Knopf Doubleday and Anchor for a chance to experience this as an eARC.
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Ray McMillan is a talented violinist and a person of color. After spending some time in New York City with his girlfriend, he discovers his priceless violin, passed down from his formerly enslaved great great grandfather has been stolen. 

From here, we are taken on the journey of how Ray, a celebrity in the classical music world, got to that point. From his high school days playing on a school rental without the support and encouragement of his mother to  playing as a soloist in the largest international competition. Along the way he is gifted his great great grandfather's fiddle that turns out to be an 18th Century Stradivarius worth millions. Throughout his journey he faces racism and discrimination. 

The author, himself a Black classical musician, doesn't shy away from bringing attention to not only how Black people are treated by police, but to the staggeringly low numbers of Black and other people of color in orchestras today. 

I really enjoyed this book! The character of Ray is very likable and is very well fleshed out. The author kept me rooting for Ray to be successful and turning the pages to see what happened next. I highly recommend that you go out and get you a copy of this book, even if you aren't a classical music fan. 

Thank you to Knopf Doubleday, Anchor, author Brendan Slocumb, and NetGalley for gifting me a digital copy of this book. My opinions are my own.
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Special thanks to Know Doubleday  Publishing and NetGalley for the ARC of this book in exchange for my own opinion.

I liked this book very much. Its not so much a mystery than about a man who loves music. He plays the violin and despite his race, prejudice and roadblocks in his way, he becomes very talented despite his own mother calling his playing "racket". The book's blurb reads more like a mystery, which I would call it more of a character study, which I'm beginning to like.

A little slow going at the start of the book, I wanted to keep reading and glad I did. The violin Ray played was his great grandfather's who was a slave in the early days. Why would someone want his violin? Because it was a Stradivarius, his great grandfather had from the people that owned him as a slave, and now they wanted back what they believed was the it's and left a very high ransom in its place. 

The part of the book I could've done without was the part on the workings of an orchestra. It was a little boring for me there. I would recommend this book, to anyone who gets held back from their dreams especially and to inspire them to go for it and for anyone who has great ancestry items, because you never know what a treasure you may have.

3 stars well 3.5 really, which becomes a 4 I guess so I am knocking off a point for the facts on the inner workings of the opera. and going with 3.4 Zzzzzzz.
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This is a good novel to read this month, one that emphasizes Black history. It has so much to say about music being for everyone, not just the elite. It is a language that transcends race and financial status. It is a passion that speaks to people across continents and is not reserved for a select few. 

Ray is a Black musician and this novel highlights the difficulties he experienced. The author says he writes from his own history. Ray aptly portrays the sheer determination needed to be recognized as a success in his field. His character is developed well and we really have a clear picture of his passion for music and the love for his wonderful violin. The back story of the violin is a gruesome slave situation yet one we need to be aware of.

 I felt the mystery of the stolen violin was not the strongest aspect of the plot. I was not at all surprised at the resolution. I did appreciate learning much about musical instruments and many pieces of music. But the best part was being immersed in the world of a Black musician with passion and determination. What an eye opening novel for this reader. 

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.
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The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb is a mystery novel following Ray, a Black professional violinist who has defied all obstacles and become a rising star in classical music. Ray plays his Pop-Pop's fiddle that was gifted to him when he was a teen and soon discovers it is a famous Stradivarius. However, with a priceless violin comes family, strangers, and others who come out of the woodwork wanting to claim his violin. Even worse, his treasured possession is stolen right before the Tchaikovsky Competition he has been preparing for the last 3 years for. With an endless list of suspects and a sizable ransom, will Ray ever be reunited with his violin?

Wow, what a fantastic premise! When I read this summary I knew there was something special about this book and I was not disappointed! Ray is a compelling character that was complex and vulnerable. The reader roots for Ray to have the love and support of those around him as he deals with racism, unsupportive and greedy family, and so much more. I absolutely loved that Ray was confident and did not demonstrate imposter syndrome despite the terrible voices around him. As for the other characters, I loved how Janice supported Ray and saw the gem that lay within him. His family on the other hand, filled me with so much frustration and I just wanted them to treat him the way Ray deserved. Ray made so many sacrifices for his family and yet it somehow was never enough. 

The atmosphere of this novel was tense! I had dread for so much of the book wanting to know who was involved and wanting his interpersonal dynamics to improve. There are shocking scenes that after reading the author's note about these scenes reflecting his own experiences and I believe are necessary for the author to include. Despite the tenseness, I loved the joy when Ray was performing and how he left everything on the stage during his performances. 

The ending I thought was fantastic, although I predicted the two big reveals rather early. However, it was so fitting and powerful. The letter included did not absolve certain individuals who did not deserve it and I appreciated that. 

Overall, this was a FANTASTIC novel and I cannot believe this is a debut novel. Wonderful storytelling and I can't wait to see what is next from this author. 

Many thanks to the publisher Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group - Anchor and Netgalley for the ARC in return for an honest review.
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Title: The Violin Conspiracy
Author: Brendan Slocumb
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Anchor
Reviewed By: Arlena Dean
Rating: Five
"The Violin Conspiracy" by Brendan Slocumb

My Assessment:

After all, is said and done, 'The Violin Conspiracy' was a good read. First, we find Ray McMillian's violin had been stolen. From there, we learn of its 'disappearance, lawsuits, and even prejudice' that came with all of it, giving the reader one fascinating story. It was interesting how well this author, Brendan Slocumb put the story together as he wrote from his own experiences...seeing that he had suffered in a way that Ray suffered. Seeing how Ray had fought against racism, prejudice, frustrations, roadblocks, and even abuse from his own family, friends, and society, we are given quite a story. 'The Violin Cospiracy' was about how 'Ray's grandma had passed down the violin to Ray that her Pop Pop had carried from slavery.' Who would have thought that this violin turned out to be a Stradivarius? However, on the eve of a classical music competition in Moscow, someone has stolen the violin, and a 5 million dollar ransom is demanded its return. Again, the author did an excellent job of giving us an engaging read will this end? Who can Ray trust? I enjoyed how Ray searched it down to find the untrustworthy person who had stolen his violin, and I will stop here and say you will have to pick up 'The Violin Conspiracy' to see how it will all come out for Ray by the end.

If you are looking for a good book 'about music, mystery, coming of age, and social commentary,' you have come to the right place for 'The Violin Conspiracy' will give it all to you and more.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the chance to read this arc in exchange for an honest review.
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Ray McMillan is this talented black violinist in the South, the great great grandchild of slaves, who overcomes amazing odds and learns to play when nobody expects him to have any ability whatsoever. His grandmother even gives him a family heirloom that is steeped in mystery, more mystery then they could expect.

But, we actually learn all this as we wander through the story, because as the story begins, Ray is in NYC practicing and getting ready to head home. He gets back to NC and finds his violin has been stolen. And not just any violin, a Stradivarius! And the backbiting over this violin is unreal.

The story goes through Ray’s life, over states and continents, through history and bigotry. You see the world of classical music through the eyes of a minority musician, someone seen as gimmick until they actually hear him play. Slocumb is a musician himself, so we see this world through his eyes.
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What a wonderful novel…it hits all the right notes (appropriate pun since it is about classical music)! The story is filled with emotion, suspense, and hope and with characters that will fill your heart. The descriptions of the stories the music tells are amazing, making me wish I had a better musical background so I could share the joy the music so obviously brings. The messages it delivers on family and race and dedication are perfect. Loved this novel!

Thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Random House for the ARC to read and review.
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I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this one and when it started out slow and was a little vague on what was going on, I won’t kid you, I was concerned.  But then just like that I was engrossed in the flashbacks to Ray’s life and wanted to know more about him, his family and his violin.

I appreciate the arts and music, but I really don’t know much about orchestras and really enjoyed the discussion of the violin, revered music and how things work in the industry.  This is listed as a mystery/thriller and it only meets this in the loosest of ways.  Yes, there is a mystery as to what happened to Ray’s violin, but it is really so much more of a character driven story about an outsider trying to fit in and not let life take away his opportunities.

The only thing that kept me from giving it 5 stars is it had moments where it was a little preachy and gave the reader a lesson on what is wrong in the world and classical music.  I wish that lesson would have been a little less overt and blended into the story, but that did not stop me from rooting for Ray to recover his violin and win the Moscow competition.

I breezed through this quickly and really enjoyed it.
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This book was so much more than I was expecting and I enjoyed every page. Ray is a young man with great talent and he has been given a violin by his grandmother. It seems to be a run of the mill violin but is found to be a Stradivarius. It's value to those around him is the millions its sale would bring or the ransom that will soon to be required when it is stolen. Let the mystery unfold....and what a wonderful mystery it is.
Ray is a wonderful character, a young black teenager, a young man who can make his violin sing. We learn about his family, his friends and the barriers he faces from both them and society. The world of a professional musician is cut throat and, if you are black, well it's quite a head wind to fight. I was sucked into his story, learning so much about professional musicians, Stradivarius and how evil some people can be. The mystery was well crafted with a great ending.
My thanks to the publisher Anchor Books and to NetGalley for giving me an advance copy in exchange for my honest review.
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Excellent book detailing the life of a classical musician and a black man in a predominantly white world. This book imatter-of-factly portrays the day-to-day racism encountered but also shows a way to combat it without violence or anger or stooping to the racist’s level. I enjoyed the backstage glimpse of celebrity shown here on the uphill side and at the top. Ray McMillan would be a very interesting person to know and a good friend. Thank you to #netgalley and Anchor Books for this arc of #theviolinconspiracy to read and review.
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Anyone who loves music will sink into the gorgeous descriptive passages in this book about what happens to your brain on music. I think that what I find so satisfying is that in real life, we often fumble or freeze up or are struck wordless, but Ray McMillian, violin virtuoso, seems always able to speak the right word or to lose himself in the music and give a brilliant performance just when he needs to the most. When he went to pick up the old violin after repairs and played it in the shop:  

"The opening adagio starts out rich and full...and then it lightens, begins to dance, bob along in the current of life: excitement and great joy competing, soaring, grateful, and alive.... He poured out into the air what he was unable to put into words: his gratitude--for this violin, for Janice, for Grandma Nora...Thank you. He ended the piece with its thunderous final note, opened his eyes. The applause echoed in the showroom; from the stairwell, all of Rowland's associates had come down and were clapping as well."

What a moment--for a black kid from Charlotte, NC, to enter a high-end violin shop and play a Stradivarius that brought these jaded New Yorkers out of the woodwork and drew heartfelt applause.

The tale's structure starts with the inciting incident, the moment he discovers his violin is stolen, and then it backtracks over Ray's life as he picks up a cheap school violin and begins to feel the joy of music, then gets his Pop Pop's old violin, then truly blossoms as a performer, all the while enduring constant racism and microaggressions from snobs in the classical music world. After three years of preparation, he is only a few months away from entering the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow when the violin is just--gone--and in its case is a Chuck Taylor sneaker and a ransom note.

Great storytelling ensues, but at every turn Ray seems to come out on top. It made me think of The Goldfinch in that I was so worried about all the misadventures the protagonist had. But fear not, this is a most satisfying read. 

Unlike some fiction I've read where there is a character who is musical and just obviously is going to Juilliard (like it's easy), Ray's story is much more realistic. He earns a scholarship to the fictional Markham University in NC and racks up some serious debt. The author's realistic portrayal of the vicissitudes of a career in classical music and the ten-hour daily practices is also very satisfying. This book is for anyone who has endured prejudice trying to make it in a non-traditional field, everyone whose family does not believe in them, every school kid who has ever had a dream, everyone who loves music. With maybe a note about a few f-bombs that echo realistic speech, I would recommend this for high school through adult interest level.
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The Violin Conspiracy is a beautiful and thoughtful book written by Brendan Slocumb.  As a Black violinist the author certainly has a wealth  of experience and information to share about this world.  Competition, racism, family, love, trust and theft are among the topics handled deftly.  I was drawn in from the beginning and rode the scales to the end.  Highly recommend!
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Before I get in to my review: assuming you are reading this before you start reading the book, go pull up the playlist posted by the author on Spotify. It is over 5 hours of classical music to provide the perfectly themed background to reading this book. And now on to the review.....

This book combines the world of classical music and racism. It feels like an unlikely combination but it works. The story starts off right away with the theft of the violin but then takes the reader back to the time when Ray began his love of fiddling. By the time you get back to the present, and the loss of the violin, you have forgotten that it was stolen. The story pulls you in that much! Likewise, this mystery would have been compelling without the inclusion of the bigotry against Ray and other minority musicians. Its addition just increases the depth of the story. I will say, however, that I did not feel the parts that focused on the racial events were as strongly written as those dealing with music. I think maybe they were a bit too real for the author as it is stated in his notes that many of these events actually took place. Additionally, I was not completely satisfied with the resolution to the mystery. I can't say more without a potential spoiler. But, this was a beautiful page turner that will have you looking up musical terms and humming a few classical tunes.
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3.75 stars

A stellar debut novel featuring a layered and appealing main character - Ray, a young Black man of amazing musical talent. Ray is all about the music -- he plays with fire and emotion and loves sharing that with an audience. And this is despite the fact that he received little or no support or encouragement to pursue his dream while he was growing up, and has to experience racial hatred or discrimination regularly.

The plot is interesting -- Ray is given an old fiddle which belonged to his beloved grandmother's grandfather, a slave. It turns out to be immensely valuable and the mystery plot of the book has to do with its theft. It's not "just" a musical instrument or family heirloom to Ray. It's a huge part of what he does with his music and a constant reminder of his Grandmother Nora. Ray's family isn't horrible, but they (except for his grandma and his Aunt Rochelle) are pretty selfish and self-centered.

We get to know Ray pretty well and like what we see. He mostly manages to maintain his equilibrium through various sets of bizarre and unsettling circumstances. Ray, his girlfriend, and his mentor are trying to prepare him for his participation in the amazingly prestigious Tchaikovsky Competition while simultaneously trying to find his violin, staving off two legal challenges, and fundraising for the ransom.

Interesting plot with a surprise ending and a great insight into the very non-diverse world of professional classical musicians and orchestras. Thanks to the publisher and to Net Galley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.
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With its strong plot line and clear voice this story is engaging and suspenseful. It's gripping in its intensity. If you like discovering debut authors as much as I do definitely take time to take a look at this up and coming author. Happy reading!
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Want to know what people really think of you? Stand between them and a big, fat payday. You will get your actual, genuine position in their hierarchy delivered at express speed and before the varnish could be applied, still less dried.

Rayquan (usually "Ray") McMillian learns that there's nothing in this world like the benjamins to bring stuff into focus very early: He grows up without anything extra and the minimum was as cheap as it could reasonably be (often enough cheaper). As soon as it became possible, Ray was pressured to stop wasting time with his stupid fiddling and get a shelf-stockin' job to "help the family" (aka his selfish mother). Time to make horrible noises on his fiddle was more than merely grudged, it was a source of actual anger...seen as selfish, unproductive, the action of a loser. (All those fingers pointin' back from the accusatory poking one missed her notice, it seems.)

You knew there'd be a grandmother in here, right? One who Believes in Ray? You were right, there is.

And a more wonderful soul it's hard to conjure. I was all ready to Pearl-Rule this bad boy before Grandma Nora (she whose belief in Ray makes her "talk so sweet {about him} it could give you diabetes") came on stage, I was so pissed off at the Philistines and money-grubbers Ray has to call family! What malign genetic flub gave Grandma Nora a daughter like Ray's mom?! And there's no end to the nasty, of course, since this is a thriller/mystery. But that's the tour I signed up to take, and was ready for. A bracing dose of lovingkindness later, it was all gas no brakes and that finish line won't know what hit it.

Ray, as you'll have gathered, is a fine musician and to hell with his grasping, whiny mother complaining about the "racket" his practicing makes. He perseveres, Grandma Nora's staunchness in his corner, and actually begins to climb the ladder of classical violin's performance hierarchy. What he faces along the way is no surprise to anyone reasonably sentient, as his ethnicity is used by everyone around him. Only rarely to help him, I'm sure you'll be stunned to learn. His other shining light is his teacher, his one professional mentor, Dr, Janice Stevens. She makes school a haven, a place where someone really gets him and sees the music in his being.

Ray's early training in Keep Calm and Carry On within the loving bosom of his family pays off. That ability to focus is his superpower. It leads him to the *pinnacle* of a violin soloist's ambitions: the International Tchaikovsky Competition, a quadrennial classical-music Olympics that unquestionably makes a musician's career. Even competing there is a leg up...and for a Black man raised with nothing, it is damned near unprecedented for him to be there.

That? That's enough novel for most of us. But Author Slocumb said, ", what happens if the Black man happens to get a Stradivarius from his grandmother...?"

What happens is betrayal, heartbreak, and the kind of publicity you damn sure can't pay for. Broken hearts mend; wounds don't fester forever; a career launched into the stratosphere by a juicy scandal leads to a lifetime of opportunities. Ones Ray's absolutely up to taking full advantage of, coming away with a silver medal in spite of the horrors around his violin's rape from him. This one unique possession, it will surprise no one to learn, opens so many doors to him. It will not surprise anyone, either, that he walks boldly up to the doors expecting them to open...and they do.

Ray's search for the thief of his prized possession, his almost desperate desire not to believe where the search leads him, and his dogged perseverance through it all speak volumes for the value of adversity surmounted in creating character. I think Author Slocumb did exactly the right thing by enabling Ray to reach back, to offer a hand of fellowship from his place of privilege.
<blockquote>Ray made it a point to highlight music by Black and Latinx composers. After all those years fighting and proving wrong the preconceptions that people who looked like him couldn't play the music of dead white men, he dove into the phenomenal music written by those people who did indeed look like him.</blockquote>
It is the thing that defines my memory of Ray McMillian, fictional character: He worked his ass off, he focused on the problem at hand, and he stomped the daylights out of the inner voices installed early that demanded he think about unimportant stuff instead of powering himself, supercharging his gifts with well-honed talents.

In the end, what matters in a life? Looking back, what difference does any of what we do make?
<blockquote>"Music's the gift. Caring's the gift. There are a lot of ways apart from a concert hall to make a difference in someone's life."</blockquote>
That's Dr. Janice Stevens, if you're wondering, having a ghostly chat with post-disaster Ray. Thanks, Janice. Whatever your name, wherever you might be...whichever one of us you reached out for, gave a hand to...Thanks to the Janices the world over who do something easy for them and priceless to the recipient.

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I really enjoyed reading this book - I had to know how it ended and wasn't disappointed. It was rewarding and heartbreaking at the same time. I can see this one becoming a movie. It had the same affect on me as Razorblade Tears. I only worry that this will be his one and only book because at the in the Author's Note, it sounded like it was more of a life story.
Thank you to #netgalley and #anchorbooks for an ecopy for an honest opinion -#pubdate02/01/2022
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This grabbed me right at the beginning. Ray is an aspiring violinist. When he returns home to Charlotte he finds that his prized violin is missing and in the case is a ransom note for $5 million. From there we back track and learn that Ray is a black kid that just wants to play music, classical violin, but his mother wants him to stop making that noise, get his GED and then a job at Popeye's to help her pay the bills. He is determined and pretty much self taught. He can't play in the summer because he has to give his rental instrument back to the school. His grandmother shares with him that her father, Ray's great-grandfather, played the fiddle. He was a slave and played for his master and eventually the master gave him his freedom and the fiddle to keep. She finds it and gives it to him for Christmas that year. Upon taking it to be repaired and cleaned up it is revealed to be a Stradivarius worth $10 million.

This is so much more than a mystery. The slave owner's descendants are suing him to get back the violin they feel is rightfully theirs. His own mother and aunts and uncles are suing him because they feel it rightfully still belongs to them. Actually his mother was a horror and I have no idea why he even gave her the time of day. It is about racism and all the slights and violence he encounters as he pursues his career.

There was a lot of music and since I have no musical background I didn't always understand but I did google and watch videos of some of the music he mentioned.

I would like to thank Knopf Doubleday and Netgalley for my copy of this novel.
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There are different types of leeches in the world. Some you call family, some you call girlfriend, some you don’t really know. They comes out of their caves when you show some promise of something they wouldn’t understand or care yet they know they can benefit from it. They might want to rob you of what you deserve, what you worked for. Or they might want to take credit for your success or even luck.

Welcome to Ray’s life! All he wanted was to play violin. His grandmother gave him the biggest gift he could wish for: his great grandfather’s “fiddle” that happened to be a Strad! The family who couldn’t stand him playing violin and calling it noise suddenly want to sue him for money like he wasn’t nice enough to offer them majority of everything he earned. The family of slave master who gave the violin to his great grandfather started to stalk him with dollar signs in their eyes and racism in their blood. They eventually sued him too. But these were least of Ray’s problems, because now that Strad was stolen.

The story gives sufficient amount of examples of racism in the US: touches upon slavery and things black people had to go through, bigotry in these days starting from being randomly stopped, cuffed, kept overnight at police stations, and many many more. But it also shows level of discrimination a black person can face in music industry. Like he wasn’t being traumatized enough, Ray could not do one thing he loved to do without having to prove himself over and over again. I liked how this book looked at racism from specific industry perspective while remaining us the real good pieces of music!
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