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Heart of Palm

3.86  ·  Rating Details ·  775 Ratings  ·  148 Reviews
Utina, Florida, is a small, down-at-heels southern town. Once enlivened by the trade in Palm Sunday palms and moonshine, Utina hasn’t seen economic growth in decades, and no family is more emblematic of the local reality than the Bravos. Deserted by the patriarch years ago, the Bravos are held together in equal measure by love, unspoken blame, and tenuously brokered truces ...more
Hardcover, 496 pages
Published April 2nd 2013 by Grove Press
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Aug 06, 2013 Sandra rated it it was amazing
I put Smith's debut novel at the top of my list of my favorite books. It's set outside of St. Augustine, Florida in the fictional town of Utina, named for a native tribe. The beauty of this book lies in its characters. The Bravo family's a quirky and eccentric bunch who you will love. Smith's character development equals or surpasses any I've come across. The matriarch of the family, Arla Bravo, lives in a rickety but grand home on the banks of an intracoastal waterway with her daughter Sophia w ...more
Feb 12, 2013 Candace rated it really liked it
Heart of Palm

Utina, Florida, is a small, raggedy town off the beaten path of any of the state’s real estate booms—so far. I’m using that old school “beaten path” expression in place of the more modern-ish “radar” because Utina is not the sort of place where people know from radar, but they definitely do know about tangled, root-rich, overgrown paths leading to the Intercostal Waterway. The Bravo family owns the town’s bar and grill—the only one—which is run by the good-hearted Frank, who stayed
Jai Francy
Dec 03, 2013 Jai Francy rated it it was amazing
When there is just enough (money, luck, talent, etc., etc,etc,) to get by, one tends not to take chances or stray very far from what’s familiar. For once the fence has been crossed, if it goes wrong – there are just not enough resources to make it go away. The Bravo family is generations of depleted resources, abject poverty, and a whole lotta dysfunction. Lifetimes of being from the wrong side of town might just turn out to be being in the perfect location at the perfect time with the growth of ...more
Lesa Parnham
May 16, 2013 Lesa Parnham rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2013-books-read
You can't judge a book by it's cover. The book looks like a sappy romance novel, but it still interested me because it was about the part of Florida that you have to look really hard to find these days. I have been a Floridian for 42 years and I have seen in grow from small town beauty to city upon crowded city.

Beyond that the book had a great plot line about a very dysfunctional family with lots of twists and turns. The characters all had a likable quality and most also had a hard to like side
Jun 18, 2013 Patty rated it it was amazing
Heart Of Palm
Laura Lee Smith

My "in a nutshell" summary...

Family issues in a little town in Florida are exacerbated by realtors who are clamoring for three hot properties.

My thoughts after reading this book...

The Bravos...odd, unusual, surrounded by trouble...this is the family at the heart of this novel. The only somewhat sane and normal one is Frank...he seems to be the one holding this family together. Arla and Sofia...mother and daughter constantly bickering...Dean...the father who just wal
Apr 29, 2013 Susan rated it really liked it
The worst thing about this book is the title. If I had gone by that alone, I probably would not have chosen the book because it sounds like just another romance, but the description drew me in.

But this Southern saga of the Bravo family is so much more than a romance, even though there is some of that involved, and even though the first few pages made it seem just another romance.

You just don't want to get mixed up with those fellas. Just ask Arla, who fell in love with Dean when she was just a t
Richard Gartee
Sep 02, 2014 Richard Gartee rated it it was amazing
The writer's craft in this novel is just outstanding. The characters are so well drawn they feel like people you've known forever. Their back-stories are revealed just a line or two at a time as their current story evolves. The plot twists appear unexpectedly, as they should, but you immediately sense the rightness that they should have occurred just as they did. But the author so cleverly hadn't tipped her hand. Whether you know North Florida or know, you will by the time you finish this book. ...more
Apr 30, 2013 Amanda rated it it was amazing
I've found that southern fiction often ends up at opposite ends of a spectrum. Either the book takes its southernness SO seriously that it wears it like a badge of honor---or a chip on the shoulder. I can't read those books--the pompous southern fiction. The other end are the books that exhibit their southernness like a caricature. These are the often hysterical books that showcase the oddities that are often go hand in hand with life in the south. Heart of Palm sat wonderfully in the middle. Th ...more
Mar 31, 2013 Vivian rated it really liked it
The Bravo family has a history of tragedy and heartache. The matriarch, Alma Bolton Bravo, was raised in a well-to-do family and never wanted for anything. Alma decided as a teenager that she wanted to be different, so she chose to marry a man that was as different from her family as she could find, Dean Bravo. The first tragedy in their lives occurred on their honeymoon, when Alma is in a boating accident that causes the amputation of her toes and splits her foot. Of course it doesn't help that ...more
Jan 13, 2016 Beverly rated it really liked it
Heart of Palm was the perfect book to bring on a Florida vacation. It's 450 pages and I tore through it once I got going. Before I left I did a search for books set in FL, looking beyond the usual suspects. Once you read Swamplandia you are drenched with a sense of place reflecting the old FL clashing with the new. A great book.

This one was was not GREAT but it was damn good IF you are interested in the area north of St. Augustine on the Atlantic, the small town lives being lived between the de
P.C. Zick
May 05, 2014 P.C. Zick rated it really liked it
Laura Lee Smith's Heart of Palm captured my heart first with its setting in north Florida, and second, with its quirky Bravo family drawn in the best of southern family traditions.

The Bravo family lives in the fictional small town of Utina on the Intercoastal just a short drive from St. Augustine. The development all over Florida forgot this sleepy little village until one day it becomes apparent that this gem of a location might be the perfect spot for a new resort.

The mother of the Bravo tribe
Aug 03, 2015 Kate rated it liked it
I have a suspicion that the publicists missed the mark when promoting Laura Lee Smith’s Heart of Palm. I’m in no way qualified to make that statement (because really, I know nothing about how those publicists work) however I know what sort of books reach out from the shelves in a book shop and yell “Pick me! Pick me!”. Obviously something about Heart of Palm caught my attention (on Netgalley) but it was years ago, and each time I read the blurb again, I wondered what it was that had attracted me ...more
Melanie Johnson
Jul 09, 2013 Melanie Johnson rated it really liked it
Brand new author - loved this book. It revolves around the Bravo family of Utina, FL (near St. Augustine). As someone who has lived in this area, it was great to read about life in the small Florida town where the Bravo's have lived for generations. Alma, the tall, beautiful redhead who comes from money and marries the wild, blue-collar Dean. Right off the bat they have trouble. Lots of drinking, running around, crazy behavior that makes for a great story. My only regret is not having it on my K ...more
Andrea Larson
May 22, 2013 Andrea Larson rated it it was amazing
Here's a book that I didn't expect to love ... but I did. Heart of Palm is a portrait of a dysfunctional rural Florida family whose world turns upside down as seemingly everything around them, and among them, begins to change. I came to love these characters, who are each dealing with the scars of past tragedies, with loss and regret, in vastly different and often eccentric ways. This tender, witty novel moved me to tears. A wonderful read.
Aug 18, 2013 Chris rated it it was amazing
What an outstanding debut novel. Couldn't put it down this weekend. Set in a small town north of St. Augustine, you can feel the decay of old Florida as the promise and dread of developers casts a shadow over the story. Each member of the Bravo family is realistically portrayed. Just a great read.
Mar 01, 2013 Jean rated it it was amazing
I absolutely loved this book. Smith perfectly captures the essence of this area of Florida. Her characters are some of the finest ever. And I loved the dog. I picked the book up to take a look at it and found myself deeply enmeshed almost instantly. The prologue is the best ever. Will totally reel you in.
Dec 31, 2012 Breanna rated it it was amazing
recieved an advanced copy of this book and i absolutly loved it! the bravos have an amazing story behind them and were fun to read about. loved how it talks about chinese acrobats in the beginning of chapter 16. I think Laura Lee Smith did an amazing job with this book and i would definatly recommend for others to read!
Oct 18, 2015 Sarah rated it it was amazing
Loved this book so much. I was hesitant to read it at first, but I know the setting, the St. Augustine area, well and it was recommended in Garden & Gun magazine, so I decided to give it a try based on those two factors. So glad I did...couldn't put it down.
Margaret Dee
Sep 11, 2015 Margaret Dee rated it it was amazing
Wonderful first novel set in the inter coastal area outside of St. Augustine. This book is about family, change and forgiveness. I hope that this author keeps writing.

Go get this book.
Jan 08, 2014 GIZMO rated it it was amazing
I loved this book...the story itself is simple but the characters win you over..
Jolene Yap
Jan 26, 2013 Jolene Yap rated it liked it
Review first published at Ballad's Reviews.

Let me start this off by saying, literature isn't quite my genre. I don't typically read this sort of fiction, really. I'm more of an action, fantasy, romance person, you know. The sort of books with loads of crazy out-of-the-world stuff happening. Fiction being so veryfictitious.Yes,well, HEART OF PALM is a little more down-to-Earth compared to my usual reads.


Flowing, lyrical prose
Interesting, fully dimensional cast of characters
‘Real-life’ issues
Tricia Kristoff-rampata
I liked the venue. Since I live in St. Augustine, I would picture the places that were depicted in the book and it made it "real" for me. Like the time Arla steals ice cream from the Dairy Queen in town because they messed up making her Blizzard!

Oct 09, 2016 Regina rated it really liked it
I didn't think this would be a great book, "judging by the cover", I was pleasantly surprised. I loved the characters and the few twists with an ending I was quite content with.
Feb 04, 2016 Michael rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, families, florida
Most people will tell you that most of Florida is not a part of the South as a cultural region, and they'd be pretty much right. And other than the landscape, there isn't much that's Southern about the people of Heart of Palm and the town of Utina. One of the story's major concerns, however, is very Southern: the question of land and ownership and what that means, the threat of development, the erosion of a place's identity.

And these are concerns that aren't really satisfied by the end of the b
Oct 03, 2016 Nancy rated it really liked it
Very entertaining story about the members of a troubled, reckless family that reels from conflict to crisis.
Marian Beaman
Nov 03, 2015 Marian Beaman rated it it was amazing
As I read Laura Lee Smith’s stunning first novel, imagery from two disparate writers from the South materialized in my mind full force: Flannery O’Connor who writes of the “Christ-haunted” South from the vantage point of Georgia, and Pat Conroy who makes Melrose Island, South Carolina come alive in Prince of Tides’ flashbacks.

Like these authors, Smith’s novel portrays vivid characters and a strong sense of place in a fictional town just south of St. Augustine, Utina, where the Bravo family of F
Jun 14, 2013 Vox rated it really liked it
Utina, Florida, sounds like one big, sweaty armpit. If nothing else, it appears to be the place you go when your dreams die.

For the Bravo family, it's the place where most everything dies. Frank Bravo, the middle son, would rather stick his toes in a cool mountain lake, but there he is, sweating it out in Utina, working in the family bar. His mother, Arla, lives in the family home with his older sister, Sophia. The two are at constant odds, usually over trivial matters, as Frank attempts to run
Mar 01, 2016 Obsidian rated it liked it
Heart of Palm started off so promising, but in the end through a lot of plot contrivances just ended in a whimper.

We begin with the marriage of Arla and Dean Bravo which from the beginning was doomed. We then fast forward decades to one of the main characters of this novel, Frank Bravo. The other main character is Carson Bravo (both of them are Arla and Dean's sons).

The Bravo family lives in Utina, Florida, trying to make ends meet after Dean walked out on his family years earlier.

Frank the peac
Heart of Palm is a good enough first novel focussing on a wildly dysfunctional (is there any other kind?) family called the Bravos, and through them the issues of real estate development in the sleepy coastal village of Utina, Florida.

The Bravos have issues. The father is gone to no one knows where. The mother has a foot chopped off and is getting battier by the day. She lives in a sprawling termite infested house with a daughter who is battier than her mother. Their first son is a scumbag who h
Carolyn Hill
Jun 12, 2013 Carolyn Hill rated it really liked it
Laura Lee Smith's wonderfully evocative writing lured me into this tale of the tragically flawed Bravo family. The setting of Utina, Florida, between St. Augustine and Jacksonville, is the other dominant character of the novel, whose fate is tied up with the Bravo family's. "Didn't nobody have money in Utina, people said" and it was a town that time had largely forgotten. But real estate developers have their eye on the Bravos' property, and if they sell, it will change the town forever. The Bra ...more
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Laura Lee Smith’s first novel, Heart of Palm, will be released by Grove/Atlantic on April 2, 2013. Her short fiction was selected by guest editor Amy Hempel for inclusion in New Stories from the South: The Year’s Best, 2010. Her work has also appeared in The Florida Review, Natural Bridge, Bayou and other journals. She lives in Florida and works as an advertising copywriter.
More about Laura Lee Smith...

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