Growing up Black in rural North Carolina, Ray McMillian’s life is already mapped out. If he’s lucky, he’ll get a job at the hospital cafeteria. If he’s extra lucky, he’ll earn more than minimum wage. 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 great-great-grandfather’s beat-up old fiddle is actually a priceless Stradivarius, all his dreams suddenly seem within reach. 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. Ray will have to piece together the clues to recover his treasured Strad … before it’s too late.
With the descendants of the man who once enslaved Ray’s great-great-grandfather asserting that the instrument is rightfully theirs, and with his family staking their own claim, Ray doesn’t know who he can trust—or whether he will ever see his beloved violin again.
The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb is a riveting debut mystery novel about a stolen Stratovarius violin passed down through the generations and the greed caused by its discovery. I enjoyed many aspects of this novel, such as the original plot. I don’t know a great deal about the music world, especially orchestral music, and I loved that I learned so much about it through this story since the main character is a professional violinist. I also found the historical backstory of how Ray Macmillan’s family came to own the very rare violin thoroughly compelling. I did guess who stole the violin about halfway through, but I didn’t guess the reason. Guessing correctly in no way detracted from my enjoyment of the novel.
The story moves very quickly, and the third-person narration focused through Ray’s eyes allowed for imparting enough information for non-musical types like myself to understand the story. Plus, the fact that the narration followed Ray’s perspective also gave me a more personalized look at the challenges of being a black man in this country, which is eye-opening. There is so much to enjoy about this mystery story, and I think there is something for everyone in this tale of family, greed, a musical dream, and a rare violin.
When Chelsea Martin kisses her husband hello at the door of their perfect home, a chilled bottle of beer in hand and dinner on the table, she may look like the ideal wife, mother, and homemaker—but in fact she’s following an unwritten rulebook, carefully navigating David’s stormy moods in a desperate nightly bid to avoid catastrophe. If family time doesn’t go exactly the way David wants, bad things happen—to Chelsea, and to the couple’s seventeen-year-old daughter, Ella. Cut off from all support, controlled and manipulated for years, Chelsea has no resources and no one to turn to. Her wealthy, narcissistic mother, Patricia, would rather focus on the dust on her chandelier than acknowledge Chelsea’s bruises. After all, Patricia’s life looks perfect on the surface, too.
But the façade crumbles when a mysterious condition overtakes the nation. Known as the Violence, it causes the infected to experience sudden, explosive bursts of animalistic rage and attack anyone in their path. The ensuing chaos brings opportunity for Chelsea—and inspires a plan to liberate herself and her family once and for all.
The Violence by Delilah S. Dawson is a disturbing yet thoroughly compelling pandemic tale of a world after Covid. There are so many triggers in this story, not to mention another pandemic (when I am so weary by anything virus-related). I usually would not have gotten this book nor finished it if I did get it. Yet, I did just that, and I couldn’t put it down, staying up long into the night.
If you have any triggers, it is probably in this story. I know mine were, and they are pet death/abuse and anything terrible that separates parents and children. These two topics have always left me in a puddle, and typically, I just won’t read them. Nope. No way. No how. But, I did with this book because somehow it took me to a place where I could separate my emotions behind those triggers from what was happening on the page. And, I really wanted everything to return to normal or, instead, better than expected. So, I had to know that it did, which kept me glued to the page. I loved that the people learned how to solve the pandemic problem as a community. Even though it could be dangerous, they came together and figured out so much. It is a heartwarming moment in an otherwise nail-biting world.
There are characters that I loved, those that I really didn’t, and one that went from one I hated to one I loved. There are also politically preachy moments that were very eye-rolling for me, and I felt that the story could have been done without. I don’t know that the story will cause everyone to separate from the emotions behind their triggers like I did, so if you have any, I would tread carefully. But if you are one of those lucky readers who aren’t plagued by them, then this is a book that will totally fascinate you, and the nearly 500 pages will not seem like enough to cover the impact of this endemic/pandemic story.
Let’s play a game.
You have 24 hours to win. If you break my rules, she dies. If you call the police, she dies. If you tell your parents or anyone else, she dies.
Are you ready?
When Crystal Donavan gets a message on a mysterious app with a video of her little sister gagged and bound, she agrees to play the kidnapper’s game. At first, they make her complete bizarre tasks: steal a test and stuff it in a locker, bake brownies, make a prank call.
But then Crystal realizes each task is meant to hurt–and kill–her friends, one by one. But if she refuses to play, the kidnapper will kill her sister. Is someone trying to take her team out of the running for a gaming tournament? Or have they uncovered a secret from their past, and wants them to pay for what they did…
As Crystal makes the impossible choices between her friends and her sister, she must uncover the truth and find a way to outplay the kidnapper… before it’s too late.
These Deadly Games by Diana Urban is a YA Psychological Thriller that takes the reader on an unforgettable series of jaw-dropping twists and dangerous turns, where no one returns the same as they began. Crystal Donovan, who dreams of winning a gaming championship with her closest friends to help her mother pay for their family home, narrates this fast-paced thriller.
One fateful day, all her dreams go up in smoke as someone kidnaps her sister and sends her to solve a sequence of puzzles and games to save her sister’s life, but at what cost. As Crystal races to figure out who is behind the deadly games and beat them at their own game, she faces more difficult choices and impossible requests.
The overall mystery is pretty good, though I did figure it out by about the halfway point. However, I only wish that I hadn’t noticed the glaring plot gap in the conclusion. I did love the creepy ending, though. I thought it was totally in keeping with the story, even though it didn’t add to character growth or lessons learned. These Deadly Games is truly a YA thriller appropriate for the youngest in that age group, but without the dreaded angst, for which older YA and adults have little patience. My focus didn’t waver once as I sped through this scary tale reminiscent of one of my all-time favorites, The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell.