Cover Image: Picture in the Sand

Picture in the Sand

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Member Reviews

Great book.

When I started this book, I did not realize I would be reading about a revolution in Egypt and the making of a very famous American movie.  The history of Egypt was interesting and new to me.  The movie is one that I have watched over and over, but now I see it differently.  I love books that make me think and change my impression of life.

This book starts off fast and gets you involved in the story right away.  The pace of the story is good.  The book introduces you to the characters as they make decisions. 

This is the best book that I have read that has a dual timeline.  .  When the book switches from one time to another it is very obvious, which makes it easy to follow.  One story is about a grandpa and his grandson.  The grandpa decides to tell the grandson the story of his life, which he has never shared before.  So the grandson is now reading the story of his grandpa when he was young.
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I was given a NetGalley widget for this one a year ago and I just got around to reading it and dangit it was so good. I am so thankful for the opportunity to have consumed this wildly relevant fictional tale, which felt not at all fictional, more like historical fiction, due to the times. The cover initially was what drew me in, but I'm so thankful to have stuck with it because the outcome was magical. I always love listening to audiobooks and when they sweep me off my feet, I'm just utterly captivated! I always really enjoy multi-cultural thrillers, for I embark on a journey through a land unknown to me, while still getting spooked.
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Picture In the Sand by Peter Blauner is an epic story, and it took awhile to digest and enjoy the picture the author painted of the era of 1950s Egypt.

Alex Hassan has his life in front of him. A product of an immigrant family, his grandparents came to America from Egypt, he has been accepted into an ivy league college and has a bright future. But then he disappears to be a fighter in a Holy War in the Middle East. He refuses to communicate with his family, but because of his affection for his grandfather, he agrees to listen to the story his grandfather will slowly share with him via email. He had always seen his grandfather as a kindly old man who ran a gas station. He begins to learn that he and his grandfather have more in common than he realized.

Young Ali's story starts in 1950s Egypt, where he is lucky enough to get a job as a driver with Cecil B. DeMille, who is there to film the epic movie, The Ten Commandments. It seems Ali has everything he could want, but things quickly go awry. This will lead Ali to very dark places, as there is a struggle with the Muslim Brotherhood taking place during this era.

Can older Ali tell his story to his young grandson and keep him interested enough to engage him, and not have him disappear off the internet?

This is a very compelling story. While I very much enjoyed the 1950s storyline, and all the accurate details the author brought in about the exciting filming of The Ten Commandments, I very much enjoyed the interplay between grandfather and grandson. At first the grandson shows all the arrogance of someone who thinks they have all the answers, sort of the hallmark of a religious fanatic of any persuasion. I think the author does a really good job of painting his personality during this period. But slowly the grandson is confronted with some pretty horrific things, and we begin to see the kinder and more normal aspects of his personality.

I really enjoyed this book, both for its historical depiction of this turbulent time in Egyptian history, and for the relationship via email between these two Alis.  Highly recommended.
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This was such a wonderful story with good narration. It makes the history of Egypt in the 1950s come alive for readers/listeners.
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This was a very fasted paced narrative written in a more popular style of story within a letter. Grandfather and grandson are writing back and forth throughout the story about their ties with religious terrorists. It was very interesting to read such a story during a time where war is happening around the globe. The background of the tale being on a movie set while filming a very pivotal movie adds to the drama, as many people watch this movie religiously each year and know only that side of the story. The narration was well read and many will find the voice pleasing while enjoying their inflection and tone. Thanks for the ARC from NetGalley. All opinions are my own.
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First of all, this was such a clever way to write about the Egyptian Revolution in the 1950's. I didn't even realize that's what I was walking into to begin with, but by the time we got there I was all in. 

It begins with the production of The Ten Commandments movie that came out in 1956, but was filmed in Egypt prior to that. You know, the one with Charlton Heston as Moses directed by Cecil DeMille? You know the one that is only 3 hours and 40 minutes? Our main character is the driver for Cecil DeMille (fictional) and ends up working on set etc, but amongst those activities he gets involved in the Muslim Brotherhood and with that trouble.

The other POV is a current day 18 year old boy who has decided to leave his family and go join a radical group in the Middle East. Emails are exchanged between him and his grandpa-the one who worked for DeMille. His grandpa slowly emails him his story of his time in Egypt and his involvement with the Muslim Brotherhood and the activities they were planning. This swapping of emails through storytelling was such a great set-up. 

I learned enough to be interested and to go google more details about Nasser and the revolution in Egypt at that time, and that's what I love about books! They open up new information and history for me to learn about, but in a really fun way. 

Thank you to Dreamscape Media and Netgalley for the complimentary audiobook.
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Not what I was expecting but a really poignant piece of historical fiction. Thrilling and emotional. Would definitely recommend.
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Picture in the Sand has a unique concept... a young man, flees America to join the rebels fighting in the Middle East and Syria, e-mails correspondence with his grandfather, talking about a similar time in his life in Egypt.  I loved the idea of this book, but the execution fell a little flat for me, in the end.

For me, I had a difficult time with all the references to old movies, old actors and old directors of these movies.  Much of the book was based around the filming of the old movie The Ten Commandments, and with my interest in film limited, I had a hard time listening to that most of the time.  It just was a struggle for me to continually listen to how these directors and actors treated the locals as lesser, and got away with it.  Yes, I know it was the era, but it was hard for me to listen to.

And, although I understand why the book was narrated by a man (since the correspondences were between two men in the book) I really enjoy listening to female voices better.  The narrator did a good job, but I just didn't enjoy it as much as books narrated by a woman-- personal preference.
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When Alex is accepted into an Ivy League University his Egyptian American parents couldn’t be prouder but when they find out that he’s ran off to join a terrorist group of Muslim warriors and refuses to speak to everyone there extremely worried. So when his grandpa reaches out and tells him he will tell Alex the story that the family it’s wanted to know about his own immigration to America Alex can’t resist after getting permission from his betters in the terrorist group he starts a Communication. Initially some of the things grandpa tells Alex is counterproductive and or he and the group take it not in the same vein grandpa tells it. it is a story of spies, intrigue, Hollywood, love and so much more well Alex eventually get it or will he continue to misinterpret what Abdul is trying to tell him? I feel totally inadequate writing the summary… This book was so good and deserves a review so much better than my abilities. I listen to the audiobook and felt swept away in to a different time and place. You can feel the love and understanding from grandpa and the respect from Alex put the stories grandpa tells about his time in Alexandria in Egypt in Hollywood were just so captivating and it really made it hard to stop listening. I know people say that but trust me when I say  it was very difficult to want to put this book down and go do something else. These characters will live in your head long after your press pause or close the book pictures in the sand by Peter Blnner will definitely give you a book hangover because long after you’re done you will still feel the effects of the book. I received this book from NetGalley and The publisher but I’m leaving this review voluntarily please forgive any mistakes as I am blind and dictate my review.
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I loved the portrayal of idealistic youth. Alex is the perfect picture of youth. He is passionate and fanatical and completely discounts the idea that anyone in his family could understand what he is thinking or feeling. That his grandfather had a whole life and dealt with a lot of the same issues in his youth is unthinkable to him. Only he is worldly, only he understands what God wants from him. Ah, the naivety of youth.

I loved both the glamour and grittiness of being on DeMille's 10 Commandments set. Ali was both naive and ambitious and Alex was living quite the parallel life years later. This is not an "own" voices narrative so it's important to listen to the author's notes about fiction. I think while it does depict religious extremism, it does a good job at balancing the heavy hand with the realities of how people are drawn in. The ending was really powerful.

Thanks to Dreamscape Media for gifted access to this audiobook via Netgalley. All opinions above are my own.
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Alex Hassan was accepted to an Ivy League university, causing much joy in his Egyptian American family. But joy soon turns to shock and despair when they find out that he has run away to the Middle East to join in the war, leaving America behind. He refuses to communicate with anyone but his Grandfather Ali, who offers him a deal: if Alex stays in contact with him, he will send chapters of his secret biography to him, information that he has never told anyone in his family. As Ali’s story is slowly revealed, Alex learns that he has more in common with his grandfather than he ever believed. 

I loved the dual timeline of this work and how the story was set up as a grandpa writing emails to his grandson about his past. The secondary plot paralleled the primary plot and provided insight into the decades long struggle for independence and changes in regime in Egypt, which was not only educational but also emotional. The grandfather’s story included fascinating details about Egypt in the 1950s as well as the filming of the epic The Ten Commandments film and the political regime changes in Egypt, adding another interesting facet to this work. I would have liked to see more cultural details included throughout the work, though – the setting was good, but it wasn’t completely immersive like I want from historical fiction. 

While it did take me a little bit to become fully engaged with this work, once I got into it, I was completely invested. Young Ali ends up being the main protagonist of this work, and his character was well written, exploring the yearning for bigger and better things juxtaposed with the religious fervor, political unrest, and economic plight that surrounded him in Egypt. I wouldn’t call this a “sweeping intergenerational saga” though – 90% of the work focuses on a small portion of Ali’s childhood, interspersed with brief emails from Alex. But this wasn’t a bad thing and made Ali’s story that much more developed and impactful. I would have liked to feel a bit more of an emotional connection to the characters overall – they were well written, but they were still lacking a bit for me.

This was a well written historical fiction that was easy to read and engaging. It covered a fascinating and relevant topic, and I absolutely recommend this read. My thanks to NetGalley and Dreamscape Media for allowing me to read this work. All thoughts and opinions expressed in this review are my own.
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This is a its me not the book thing. It just wasn't what I expected and it wasn't for me. However, I don't doubt that a lot of people who like historical fiction will love it.
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This one kept me wanting to listen to more and more to find out what happened. At the end I wondered what happened to Grandpa and Ali and their families.
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The core of this story was interesting, but some of the execution was lacking. For starters, Picture in the Sand starts with a frame narrative that I hated. College graduate Alex has been indoctrinated into a terrorist cell and he is emailing his grandfather about how his family will never find him. His grandfather had randomly suspected this might be a problem way back when Alex was younger and decided to write his life story -which he has never told anybody, even his son, Alex's father- and just kept on the off chance it would one day be relevant exactly to Alex's life. Sure. 

I don't love this, but to get a story going, sure. But what I really didn't like is every single email from Alex throughout this story. What a one note, unrealistic, mouthpiece of a "character". So Alex's grandfather emails him the file for the book, and every few pages, Alex stops reading to email his grandpa again about what he's read so far. It's THE DUMBEST EMAILS. I would have much rathered little interludes where Alex just *thinks* about what he's read before, but his emails are the worst part of this book. It'll be like: 
*actual story* "so I met a girl, and she was beautiful." 
-email "wait, so this is grandma? I totally understand why you think you wanted to tell me this, but I am still not coming back, you'll never see me again, take care of yourself, I'll still read more when I have time though. 
~three more pages take place, another email ~

I'm exaggerating but it's hard to explain just how jarring and ridiculous I found these emails. And the past-Grandfather story is supposed to be teaching Alex lessons, and so we get emails about his life too,'s just a very unnuanced portrayal of why people join terrorist groups. It's basically "white rich people are bad...wait, maybe they aren't ~all~ bad?!" 

Anyway, onto the actual meat of the story. It was decent. It revolves around a film shoot in Egypt from the film Ten Commandments, Grandpa Ali is hired to work on the film and has dreams of being a successful actor. He sees Yul Brenner and Charles Heston and all these big movie stars and is swept away in the magic. But his brother recruits him into a terrorist sect that wants to use the spotlight of the big film to do something to make a statement. Ali feels drawn to his brother's cause, but doesn't want to make trouble. The crux of this story is good, although I think this section of the book could have used another ~50~ pages, because the book was pretty short. The ending of the book was okay, but I was left wanting a bit more from it all. 

I switched between audio and physical and the audiobook was very good. I probably would have DNF'd otherwise.
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Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for a copy of this audiobook in exchange for an honest review. 

This book was amazing! The storytelling was vivid and mesmerizing. The way in which the grandfather is telling his story from his youth to his grandson with their current dialogue intermixed is a wonderful way to convey this story and the way in which history repeats itself.
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After I became absorbed by the book, Picture in the Sand by Peter Blauner, I wanted to see what it was like to listen to the book being read—and I was absolutely enthralled.  The narrator, Sean Rohani, does an incredible job of reading with expression and creativity.  The only negative that I feel in his reading is the deep breaths he takes while reading after sentences.  

Based on true events, Egyptian-American, Ali Hassan, 85, must reveal a secret part of his early life to his grandson who has run off to join the holy warriors in Syria.  We find out that Ali once worked as personal assistant to Cecil B. DeMille during the filming of the movie, The Ten Commandments.  Ali also spent years in prison where he lost an eye.  Highly recommended.
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Huge thank you Netgalley, Dreamscape and the author for an ALC in exchange for honest review. As always the narration was well done the pause made it harder to focus on the story. It has been sometime for me to be this unprepared to provide an actual review that will accurately capture my opinion. I do not feel qualified to review this book. I appriciate its loosely based on actual events but prefer that a time peruod that has facts and stats be non fiction instead of fiction meaning if something happened i want all facts and be classified as non fiction/memoir
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This was fantastic! A family drama that is told through the correspondence between a young, radicalized Muslim from post-911 United States who has been run away after being recruited by what seems to be a terrorist group in an unknown country and his Egyptian Muslim Grandfather who was part of the film crew of the Ten Commandments filming in Egypt during the political upheaval of Nasser's rise to power in the 1950s. The writing was great and I felt myself swept away to Egypt, a place I've never been. I connected immediately to Ali and felt his struggles deeply. Obviously very thoroughly researched, I was inspired to learn more about the political events of this time in Egypt and have spent countless hours on the internet reading about some of the events featured in this book. I'm also now looking forward to reading more of Peter Blauner's previous novels. I'll also be rewatching The Ten Commandments for the first time since I was a child in the near future!
TW: imprisonment, torture, violence
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Thank you to Dreamscape Media and the author for the early copy to read and review via Netgalley (although this has already published by now).

I quite liked this story. I felt it was beautifully and descriptively written. I loved the ways that 1950s Egypt and a Hollywood movie set are described. I didn't really care for Alex as a character but he isn't a big part of the story. This is focused mainly on Grandpa Ali's life before making it to the United States to start his family. We follow along as he gets a job for a movie director, makes mistakes, gets involved in a secret plan, finds love, gets arrested (not a spoiler as he mentions this in his very first letter to Alex), and loses his eye. This is told in letters from Grandpa Ali to Alex in which he shares a story he has written; the story of his life. Interspersed are Alex's emails back to Grandpa and his (much smaller story line) happenings.

I think the narrator was great. The inflections, different voices, and storytelling were perfect for me; I found myself completely invested in the story unfolding.
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A St. Martin's Press ARC via NetGalley.
Many thanks to the author and publisher.

This book is incredible. You can tell that the author spent time researching and painted a vivid Picture in the Sand. Every chapter you want to keep finding out about Ali and Alex. I highly recommend reading this and I feel sorry for the next books of this year that have to follow this one.

My only problem is that if you are listening to this with headphones in, the narrators breathing in the microphone is unbearable...I couldn't listen to it....
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