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Heart of Palm

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  1,012 ratings  ·  178 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/Atlantic, Inc. - Grove/Atlantic, Inc. - Grove Press
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Average rating 3.84  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,012 ratings  ·  178 reviews

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Sonja Arlow
3.5 stars

I was actually looking for this author’s 2nd book The Ice House but Amazon didn’t have the kindle format (why?) available, so I reluctantly settled for her debut novel which turned out to be a lovely surprise. The cover and the title may make you think that this is an easy chick lit story but there is a lot more substance to it.

The story follows Arla Bravo who had to bring up her children on her own when Dean Bravo skipped town after a family tragedy. The family and town are put to the
Kathryn in FL
Nov 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I grew up in the area where mythical Utina takes place. Ms. Smith captures the encroachment of the present into an area stuck "sometime" in the past. Throughout the story, I felt as though I was hearing someone tell our story with vivid prose. She nails the heartbeat of a people and their struggle to live in the present and saying goodbye to all they once held dear (or not).
Aug 06, 2013 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 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
P.C. Zick
Mar 31, 2014 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
Jun 18, 2013 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
Jai Francy
Sep 19, 2013 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 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
Jan 12, 2016 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
Susan (aka Just My Op)
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
May 30, 2015 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
Richard Gartee
Apr 05, 2014 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 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
Jul 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of Southern literature, anyone looking for a good read
I've spent the best part of an hour this morning tracking down this book because I KNEW I'd read it back some years ago and could NOT remember the name or the author. I finally zeroed in on it using Calibre. Now, since I read in the neighborhood of 200 books per year, the fact that I'd even remembered I read it back in 2014 means to me that I found it impressive.

I've refreshed my memory a bit by looking at other reviews, but I do remember that I found the characters life-like and interesting pe
Sep 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book! I'm not a "deep" book review-er by any means but I'd definitely like to offer my thoughts on this one because it really spoke to me.

I loved all the characters; good, bad, or indifferent each character was well developed in a concise way that made it easy to cruise through this family drama. I'm all about an easy read and I also like connecting with characters on a personal level, and this book gave me both!

Sad, real, infuriating, inspiring, hilarious and heartbreaking...this book ga
Joan Bannan
Aug 17, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned
We planned on this book for our August book club. I enjoyed the first chapter. I was disappointed that the second chapter didn't keep the same protagonist and switched POV to her son twenty years later. Then ... half way through that second chapter, I started flipping the pages quickly looking for the beginning of a story. It rambled on and on about the backstory of the town, of the neighborhood, of his family, and none of it was of any interest to me. It reminded me of an old man sitting on a p ...more
Mar 27, 2013 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
May 23, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013

Many books claim to be reminiscent of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe , but this small-town novel fits the bill. A buffet of genres, this story begins with young Arla's refusal to heed her parents' warning her against marrying no-good Dean Bravo. As her parents expected, he leaves her to raise their 3 children on her own...or does he? I don't want give away any spoilers, but read the book if you want to see what financial mismanagement, a multimi
Melanie Johnson
May 03, 2013 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
Melissa Rochelle
Jan 09, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: arc, read-2013
I wish Goodreads would make half stars available because I like this more than 3 stars, but didn't "really" like it enough for 4 stars. It's simply a good story about a family in a small North Florida town.

We first meet Arla when she's 18 years old. After she marries Dean, we jump forward about fifty years and meet Arla's children. This isn't really a book with action, it's just a story about a small-town and the Bravo family. There were a few slow moments, but I was always interested in learni
Andrea Larson
May 22, 2013 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.
Dec 31, 2012 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!
Mar 01, 2013 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.
Aug 10, 2013 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.
Sarah Anderson
Sep 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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. ...more
Margaret Dee
Jun 19, 2013 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.
Dec 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book...the story itself is simple but the characters win you over..
Susan Emmet
Mar 22, 2018 rated it liked it
I flew through this fine novel, a sort of "beach read" I thought at first, but I soon fell into the lap of the Bravo family, warts and dissension and secrets and love abounding. I thought it at first too soap operatic, but it isn't.
The tale of the Utina, Florida family, they of deep palm roots and dysfunction, just ropes in the reader. All the horrors of maiming and dying young, of siblings who can't escape each other, of parents broken, of neighbors and the town itself falling apart to developm
Jun 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: florida
I really liked this book, and not just because it takes place in my home state of Florida, though that didn't hurt.

I almost stopped reading early on because it didn't seem like it was going to be that interesting. It was fascinating in the very beginning, when I thought it was going to be about Arla and Dean's marriage, and then it took a turn quickly, and it was definitely NOT about that at all. I reached the part about the sons putting an alligator in the sheriff's car as a prank and I was th
Feb 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book! It wasn’t even on my “to read” list; I just pulled it off the library shelf. And now it would be on my top books ever list! Laura Lee Smith is an amazing writer. The characters are so well developed, quirky, and troubled. The storytelling is compelling with descriptions that have you smelling and feeling and touching and hearing everything. Some paragraphs and sentences were just so good, I had to reread them and let them swirl around in my head a bit.
I wish I still led a book club s
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Laura Lee Smith is the author of the novels THE ICE HOUSE (Grove Press 2017) and HEART OF PALM (Grove Press 2013). Her short fiction has been anthologized in BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES (2015) and NEW STORIES FROM THE SOUTH: THE YEAR'S BEST (2010). A writer who’s been praised for her “intelligence, heart, and wit” (Richard Russo, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Empire Falls), Smith has won awards ...more

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