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Heart of Palm by Laura Lee Smith
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Heart of Palm (edition 2013)

by Laura Lee Smith

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486242,697 (3.69)1
Member:JGoto
Title:Heart of Palm
Authors:Laura Lee Smith
Info:Grove Press (2013), Hardcover, 496 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:fiction, dysfunctional family, Florida

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Heart of Palm by Laura Lee Smith

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Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
This was a really good first write and the plot and characters held me to the end! ( )
  mchwest | Feb 5, 2014 |
What a marvelous first book ! I hope Laura Lee Smith is writing another. A southern novel set on the coast and intercostal near St Augustine, Fl , with a dysfunctional family that all love and hurt each other continually . Good family story telling, good characters and a sure feel for the places and people this author brings to her readers. ( )
  librarian1204 | Apr 30, 2013 |
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 teenager.

I loved the characters in this book. They had depth and originality and a great deal of heart. Arla, whose life didn't turn out at all as she expected. Dean, her charismatic husband, and the first Bravo we meet. Frank, who just tried to hold things together. Carson, who was so easy to dislike. Sweet, damaged Sophia. And a cast of others who made me care about them. Biaggio, whose whole existence was due to spite. And even Drusilla, only a headstone hidden in the palmettos, but a good friend to Arla.

Of course, there is a tragedy. There has to be a tragedy other than just the everyday waste of so many lives.

This is a sweet, wonderful book, bittersweet like the best chocolate, and a lovely summer read.
I was given an advance reader's copy of this book for review, for which I am grateful. ( )
  TooBusyReading | Apr 29, 2013 |
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 the cause of the accident was Dean's refusal to have a third party as a spotter to go out with them so Alma could water-ski safely. Years pass, Alma and Dean have four children and are barely making ends meet and the second tragedy occurs with the death of their youngest child. As the years pass, it is evident that their eldest, Sofia has mental health issues (she was diagnosed as manic-depressive with OCD). Dean, a heavy drinker, winds up deserting the family shortly after the death of their youngest child. Alma makes do and eventually buys out her brother-in-law's business, a local bar and grill. Carson Bravo, the eldest son, marries and moves away from home and starts his own business. Frank Bravo, the youngest son, still lives in Utina and runs the restaurant, a job he's had since he was nineteen years old. Sofia lives at home with her mother and helps her brother out by cleaning the restaurant every morning.

On the surface it appears that the Bravo family is just a family dealing with the usual family issues and dysfunctions, but the Bravos are dealing with more than tragedy, heartache and mental health issues. Frank is in love with his sister-in-law and wants to move away from Utina and live a quiet life. He knows this won't happen as long as his mother and sister are around and need him. Carson has made a mess of both his marriage and his business and needs to find a quick fix for both before he winds up divorced, in prison or worse. Sofia struggles with her mental health issues, but she is surviving and has found love for the first time in her life at age forty-three. Alma, as the matriarch, worries about her children but knows that she can no longer control them. The family is offered the chance to make a large sum of money and leave Utina behind, something they think about or say they want until the opportunity is presented to them.

Ms. Smith has captured the essence of family in all its dysfunction in Heart of Palm. As I read, I was reminded of the line from Tolstoy's Anna Karenina: "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." The Bravos are unhappy in their own special way. There aren't any true bad guys in Heart of Palm, as each Bravo family member deals with their own secrets and guilt. Dean and Alma aren't the best parents, but they did what they could for their family to the best of their abilities. Sofia, Carson and Frank aren't loving siblings but they are there for one another when needed. Carson's wife Elizabeth, and daughter Bell, add their own idiosyncrasies to the family. Sofia's love interest, Biaggio, works with and for the Bravo family and he considers himself a family member even before he and Sofia decide to marry. Heart of Palm is filled with angst, drama, greed, guilt, pain, suffering, forgiveness, and love . . . all the things that make a family a family. If you're looking for a well-written story about family and small-town living, then I strongly recommend Heart of Palm. ( )
  BookDivasReads | Mar 31, 2013 |
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 learning more about the Bravo's tough times -- both past and present. ( )
  melissarochelle | Mar 30, 2013 |
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Most people never understood why Arla went and married a Bravo.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0802121020, Hardcover)

“Intelligence, heart, wit . . . Laura Lee Smith has all the tools and Heart of Palm is a very impressive first novel.”—Richard Russo, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Empire Falls

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.

The story opens on a sweltering July day, as Frank Bravo, dutiful middle son, is awakened by a distress call. Frank dreams of escaping to cool mountain rivers, but he’s only made it ten minutes from the family restaurant he manages every day and the decrepit, Spanish-moss-draped house he was raised in, and where his strong-willed mother and spitfire sister—both towering redheads, equally matched in stubbornness—are fighting another battle royale. Little do any of them know that Utina is about to meet the tide of development that has already engulfed the rest of Northeast Florida. When opportunity knocks, tempers ignite, secrets are unearthed, and each of the Bravos is forced to confront the tragedies of their shared past.

Reminiscent of Kaye Gibbons, Lee Smith, Anne Tyler, and Fannie Flagg, Heart of Palm introduces Laura Lee Smith as a captivating new voice in American fiction.

"Like a sandspur, Heart of Palm sticks with you, drawing blood."--Rita Mae Brown, author of The Sand Castle

“Laura Lee Smith masterfully creates a deep, compassionate, and often heartbreakingly funny portrait of a wild, complex Southern family on the brink of massive change . . . . Smith is a brilliant writer, and Heart of Palm brims with lush vitality, loss, and desire.”—Julianna Baggott, author of Pure and The Prince of Fenway Park

“[An] incandescent debut novel . . . I can’t get the astonishing and benighted Bravos out of my head. And I don’t want to. What an extravagantly and engagingly flawed family this is! Smith is an enchanter casting her spell with lyrical prose, evocative details, and spellbinding characters. She explores familial chaos, reckless behavior, and hopeless love with grace, intelligence, and tenderness. She gives me what I long for in fiction: compassion and provocation. What talent, what nerve, what a wondrous and spellbinding story. Trust me, these Bravos will haunt your dreams.”—John Dufresne, author of Requiem, Mass. and Louisiana Power and Light

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:55:27 -0400)

Utina, Florida, is a small, down-at-the-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. The story opens on a sweltering July day, as Frank Bravo, dutiful middle son, is awakened by a distress call. Frank dreams of escaping to cool mountain rivers, but he has only made it ten minutes from the family restaurant he manages every day and the decrepit, Spanish-moss-draped house he was raised in, and where his strong-willed mother and spitfire sister, both towering redheads, equally matched in stubbornness, are fighting another battle royale. Little do any of them know that Utina is about to meet the tide of development that has already engulfed the rest of Northeast Florida. When opportunity knocks, tempers ignite, secrets are unearthed, and each of the Bravos is forced to confront the tragedies of their shared past.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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