Driving with the Top Down

Driving with the Top Down

by Beth Harbison


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Three women, two weeks, one convertible: sometimes life doesn't take you in the direction you expect...

Colleen Bradley is married with a teenage son, a modest business repurposing and reselling antiques, and longtime fear that she was not her husband's first choice. When she decides to take a road trip down the east coast to check out antique auctions for her business, she also has a secret ulterior motive. Her one-woman mission for peace of mind is thrown slightly off course when sixteen year old Tamara becomes her co-pilot. The daughter of Colleen's brother-in-law, Tamara is aware that people see her as a screw-up, but she knows in her heart that she's so much more. She just wishes her father could see it, too.

The already bumpy trip takes another unexpected turn when they stop at the diner that served as Colleen's college hangout and run into her old friend, Bitty Nolan Camalier. Clearly distressed, Bitty gives them a story full of holes: angry with her husband, she took off on her own, only to have her car stolen. Both Colleen and Tamara sense that there's more that Bitty isn't sharing, but Colleen offers to give Bitty a ride to Florida.

So one becomes two becomes three as Colleen, Tamara, and Bitty make their way together down the coast. It's a road trip fraught with tension as Tamara's poor choices come back to haunt her and Bitty's secrets reach a boiling point. With no one to turn to but each other, these three women might just discover that you can get lost in life but somehow, true friends provide a roadmap to finding what you're really looking for.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780594793229
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 06/09/2015
Pages: 384
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

BETH HARBISON is The New York Times bestselling author of Chose the Wrong Guy, Gave Him the Wrong Finger; When In Doubt, Add Butter; Always Something There To Remind Me; Thin, Rich, Pretty; Hope In A Jar; Secrets of a Shoe Addict; and Shoe Addicts Anonymous. She grew up in Potomac, Maryland, outside Washington, D.C., and now shares her time between that suburb, New York City, and a quiet home on the eastern shore.
ORLAGH CASSIDY is the winner of the 2009 Best Voice in Children & Family Listening and the 2008 and 2011 Best Voice in Mystery & Suspense. She's narrated for Jacqueline Winspear, James Patterson, Erica Spindler, Beth Harbison, and Frank Herbert, among others.

Read an Excerpt



Colleen Bradley hung up the phone—a tiny beep at the push of a fake on-screen button, as opposed to the satisfying slam of a good old plastic receiver—and rubbed her eyes in exasperation.

An hour and a half.

An hour and a half she had just spent on hold with that stupid hold music playing, and then the second she got a real person and not a robot, she was transferred, heard half a hopeful ring, and the call got dropped.

In front of her lay a pile of bills and papers. The satellite TV contract was up, and she needed to reup their service, after she first checked to see if there were any unadvertised specials. Last month, their phone bill was higher than it should have been, and she’d had to call and talk to them about it. The dryer was barely working, and she would have to schedule an appointment for someone to come look at it. And to top it all off, the basement carpet was all messed up from her son not letting the dog out before going to sleep, even though Colleen had warned him about that: If he didn’t let him out, the dog would ruin the carpet. Lo and behold … Her life felt like a series of single steps forward and being shoved back three.

It wasn’t that she didn’t love and want her son—of course she did!—but maybe she’d spoiled him and created her own problem. (“Monsters are created,” her mother used to say.) Maybe she’d made it too easy for him not to keep up his end of things, like letting the dog out, and now she was paying the price for the “laziness” of constantly telling him, “Forget it, I’ll just do it myself,” and then not following through in time.

Then again, Jay was the reason she had the life she did. She would never, ever forget that.

She took a deep breath and—determined to clear her in-box and knock at least that one thing off her to-do list—opened her e-mail.



Coupons for Pottery Barn. As if she could afford that, even with coupons.

Restoration Hardware?

They always lured her in with their beauty, but who could pay that much for a sofa?

An e-mail from her father. She’d read that later.

An e-mail from … Jay’s vice principal?

She hoped it was a group e-mail, school spam, but as she feared, it was addressed to her alone, and about Jay specifically. His lack of motivation, bored attitude in class, failing grades even though he had the intelligence—they all knew that—to be doing much better and excelling in AP classes.

She sighed.

How many times had they had this conversation? A hundred? Two hundred? She felt her own frustrations with the school’s increasing expectation of parental involvement in homework—she herself had always skated her way through junior high and high school doing her homework on her bed, usually while on the phone—but she was still willing to do what was necessary. Yet every time she asked Jay if he had any homework, he said it was done and she believed him.

Maybe it was just easier to believe him.

The truth was, she felt like his poor grades were her own fault. That is, Jay was responsible for his own laziness, but if she’d been hearing this story about someone else’s kid, she’d be saying the mom had to be on top of things, no matter what. Kid failing? No more computer. No more Xbox. No more privileges until he got his grades up. It was obvious.

But what was he doing now? Playing games on the computer with his friends over Skype. She could hear him. She hated the nonstop gaming, but it was easier to pretend she didn’t notice than to have the fight about it.

It was one more ball she was dropping. At this point, she’d dropped so many that in her mind, her life looked like a tennis court after group tennis lessons for ten first-graders.

She had to get her act together and start doing what needed to be done.

Now Vice Principal Richards wanted to meet with her and Kevin (she already knew he’d be too busy at work to show) and all Jay’s teachers before the end of term, which was two weeks away.

“Jay!” She yelled down from where she sat and just waited, too tired to get up and summon him for yet another Unpleasant Talk.

Finally, “Yeah?”

“Come here!”

After a longer-than-necessary wait, the tall, lanky fourteen-year-old came sauntering in. “What’s up?”

“Got an e-mail from Vice Principal Richards.” She gestured at the computer screen as if that would put the fear of God into him.

He quirked a smile. “How is he?”

“Not funny. You’ve got D’s in two classes and an F in one.”

“A’s in the other three.”

“You think that makes up for it?”

“It averages out to a mid-C.”

“Jay.” She put her head in her hands for a moment, then looked back at him soberly. “Now I have to go in and talk to every one of your teachers, your guidance counselor, and Mr. Richards.”

“Just don’t go.”

“I can’t just not go. That’s the attitude—that right there—that’s getting you in trouble. Do the work, Jay. Do. The. Work. It’s almost summer vacation, you’ve got, like, three days to turn this stuff in. Being a student is your only job—can you just get it done?”

“Okay, okay. I’ll try.”

“No. No trying—just do it. Or you won’t be going to Cooperstown with Dad.” Empty threat; they both knew it. There was no way in the world she could cancel that trip now.

But they both pretended to believe it.

“I’m forwarding this e-mail to you, it’s got your missed assignments on it. You can still pass without having to go to summer school. Go work on whatever isn’t done now.”


He went back downstairs and she waited tensely for a few minutes, then heard exactly what she expected: the sound of the computer starting up again.

So it wasn’t that she was just being a persnickety old Felix Unger when she went into the kitchen and saw the mess; it was that she had completely had it with feeling like she was constantly taking one step forward only to be shoved back fourteen.

“Jay!” she yelled, eyeing the sink, the precarious pile of Fiestaware she’d gotten piece by piece off eBay and in antique and thrift stores, according to what she could afford at any given time. Some of the plates were chipped, one of the bowls had the mold-green remains of what was probably once Life cereal—and that was the one on top, so God only knew what the ones below looked like.

She didn’t want to know.

“Jay!” she yelled again, then went to the top of the basement door and added, “Get up here. Again.”

Her son responded with something muffled and indistinguishable from down and behind the rec room door.

“I can’t hear you, come here!” Usually she had to go to them when she couldn’t hear them, Jay or even Kevin. The onus was always on her to go hear, rather than on them to come be heard.

She waited about thirty beats and was half ready to go stomping down when she heard the door creak and saw Jay coming into the kitchen.

“What is it?” He blinked eyes reddened by what a more paranoid parent would have suspected was drug use, but which she knew were irritated because he’d just been sitting in front of the computer with the lights out.

“The dishes.”

“I brought them up.”

Seemed like such a small thing. She knew it seemed like a small thing. Maybe to another person it would have been. Maybe to her it should have been. But she was weary. Couldn’t do his schoolwork, couldn’t do the dishes, couldn’t do laundry if someone offered to pay him, had no interest in playing organized sports or being in any other way organized. And all of it was a reflection, she feared, of her own laziness.

Or, not laziness—exhaustion.

“Okay, one, you have sworn to me for a week that you didn’t have any dishes down there, so I’m not going to have a parade because you brought them back as science projects; and two, I told you not to eat downstairs at all. We’re going to get bugs and maybe critters down there!”

Jay gave a laugh, and even she knew she sounded like a cartoon mom. “There’s nothing down there.”

“How would you know? You were okay ignoring this”—she gestured toward the sink—“atrocity for days!”

“Calm down.”

Never good advice for someone who is angry, by the way. No pissed-off person ever calmed down because the object of their rage told them to. “I don’t need to calm down—you need to listen and do what I say the first time. I shouldn’t have to tell you things twenty times.” Just talking about it again was starting to feel aerobic. “It’s not fair for you to pile extra work on me like this.”

“Fine. What do you want me to do?”

“I want you to do the dishes and stop ignoring the very few things I actually ask of you.”

“Fine.” He emphasized the n. “Jeez, you don’t need to go off about every little thing. You could get the same point across by being calm instead of yelling, you know.”

This was something he had said before, and something that bugged her every time. Not because it was true, exactly, but because it wasn’t the typical fourteen-year-old line that the script called for. She wished it were true. She wished he really would listen when she spoke calmly, but he didn’t.

“Apparently not.” This was far from the first time she’d called him up to do something that actually would have been a lot easier for her to do herself. But she kept thinking that if she were consistent, he’d get so tired of always having to come back and do the thing he hadn’t done, he’d just do it right to begin with.

So far, that strategy hadn’t worked at all.

He turned on the sink and lamely rinsed absolutely nothing out of the bowl—the crud was going to need physical labor as well—before putting it into the dishwasher.

“Oh my God, Jay, do you see what’s wrong with that picture?”

He actually looked at the walls, confused. “Huh?”

She pointed at the bowl, her words coming out with exasperated breath. “That. What do you think is going to happen to that in the dishwasher? Do you think there are tiny elves with trash bags in there who are going to go chisel that stuff off the bowl and carry it out to the trash so that bowl comes out sparkling clean?”

“That would be cool.”

She sighed.

Of course it would be cool. But eventually the dishwasher elves would probably just end up sitting around, eating cookies, getting crumbs everywhere, and she’d be in charge of them too.

If she’d had another child—perhaps the daughter she’d hoped for after Jay until she’d finally faced the fact that she wasn’t able to have more children—might she have had more support in the house? Could that longed-for child have made the difference that kept Colleen feeling like herself rather than a bland working machine that everyone took for granted?

“I want clean dishes to come out of the dishwasher,” she said. “Not clean food.”

“Okay, okay.” He gingerly poked at the glued-on mess with a plastic straw he’d left in one of his drinking glasses (another of her pet peeves—it was like when her dad used to put his after-dinner cigarettes out on the plate, leaving it for the wimmin-folk to deal with). The straw bent feebly against the dried piece of Life cereal he was attempting to dislodge.

And suddenly it felt to her like this scene was never going to end. She just couldn’t afford to stand here all night instructing him, moment by moment, on how to be a civilized human being.

“Pick a little, talk a little, pick a little, talk a little,” Kevin would say. Unfairly.

Because what that amounted to was everyone perceiving her as a henpecker. Why was it so hard for them to comprehend her objection to their creating extra work for her? She’d work to clean the kitchen, just so she could get it out of the way and go on to do her own thing; then she’d come back and find this unsanitary mess. No one with a civilized bone in their body could have just left it there (one would think). So she then had to address it, one way or the other.

She watched for a few minutes as he limply rinsed the caked-on food, dislodging nothing, and stuck the dishes into the dishwasher, one after the other. Finally she couldn’t stand it anymore—the impulse to just push him aside and say Forget it, I’ll do it myself! was too great—so instead she turned and walked out of the room, onto the back porch, and into the cool June air.



It doesn’t matter that much.

In a hundred years, none of this will matter.


What was going to become of her son if he couldn’t clean dishes and pass high school? Was he just going to be one of those creepy loser guys with a ponytail pulled back into a thin snake down his back, bald on top, and willing to argue to the death about Doctor Who theories while rats crept through the kitchen, wiping bubonic plague germs all over torn bags of Doritos and opened cheese gone hard and dark on the sides and edges?

It’s because of his mother, people would say. She couldn’t even teach him the basics.

This used to be one of her favorite times of day. The pale blue twilight in the early summer. Almost warm, but with a lingering cool breeze. She had so many memories of this time of day.

She remembered being young and playing outside until dinner when the sky looked like this and her parents and their friends would sit out on their front lawns and drink—she suspected now heavily spiked—coffees. Sometimes she and her neighborhood friends would be allowed up past their bedtime on these nights because the parents were having so much fun.

Playing football on the beach when she was seventeen on a spur-of-the-moment trip to Ocean City. It had been cool enough then for jeans shorts, bare feet, and sweatshirts. And once the sun was completely gone, the sweatshirted arm of her hunky but ultimately unimportant boyfriend. That was the summer before college, and the weekend she’d had beer for the very first time.

Then the memory of standing in front of Kevin almost fifteen years ago, giving him the News: She was pregnant. After a shell-shocked moment, he’d told her it would be all right, but there was tension in his voice, and she knew the truth. They both did, and for just a split second, their eyes met and she knew everything she needed to know.

He didn’t want this.

This was a catastrophe for him.

If she could go back, would she do it all the same way again?

Copyright © 2014 by Beth Harbison

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Driving with the Top Down 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I received this ARC from GoodReads/First Reads, but in no way did it effect my opinions. Three women in search of...something...only each knows what they need and we get to see how the search plays out as the fourth passenger in the slightly leaky older convertable car as we all drive down the East Coast together. Watch for the release and grab a copy. It's wonderful!!
Mengel2 More than 1 year ago
Colleen has daydreamed about driving down the east coast, going to auctions and coming back with treasures to resell at her shop.  With her husband and son going for a guys’ trip it was the perfect time to make this dream a reality.  That is until her husband drops a bomb.  His brother’s going away for business and needs someone to watch his daughter, Tamara.  Normally one wouldn’t think this a big deal, but this is the sixteen year old daughter he had only just learned about three years prior and has already had several run-ins with the law.  What does he expect Colleen to do, take this delinquent on a road trip with her? She hadn’t wanted a co-pilot, but Tamara’s turned out to be better company than anticipated.  However, the duo turns into a trio when they bump into Colleen’s college friend, Bitty.   Wilhelmina, aka Bitty, has lived a privileged life but things have taken a turn for the worse over the past year.  Now, as she sits in the diner contemplating how she’s going to end her life, she wonders if the universe is trying to tell her something as she sees Colleen walk towards her.  Not wanting Colleen to know how her life has turned out, she concocts a story about her car being stolen as she was on her way to Florida.  As luck would have it, that’s the direction that Colleen is headed and offers her a ride.  As these three ladies take an unexpected road trip together, they learn a lot about each other but more importantly about themselves.   When I heard that Beth Harbison had a new book coming out, I couldn’t wait to read it.  I’ve read all of her books and knew that I could expect not only a great story with well written characters, but one that had me anxious to find out how it ends, but at the same time not wanting it to end.  Driving With The Top Down is a compelling book about relationships and how three very different women come together when they only have each other to turn to.  This is definitely THE end of summer book to read!  
csmmom More than 1 year ago
I listened to this book on audio and thoroughly enjoyed it. This is a story about three women, two near 40 and one 16 year old that have found themselves to be on a road trip together. What each one doesn’t know is how much they need each other in their lives at this very moment. I loved each of the characters and their unique personalities. Tamara is a rebellious teenager who is just looking for guidance. Bitty is a women who has been hurt in such an emotional way, that she is looking to take the easy way out. Colleen is a mother and small business owner who has regrets about her life and struggles with getting over it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
First off I'm the last person to be called a prude.I read the book the other day-Cure For the Common Break Up and after parts when the sex scenes happened it took awhile for me to realize that they didn't describe the details.Usually that would shave off at least 100 pgs.per book.Don't get me wrong.l enjoy the steamy sex scenes but after 4or5 same-o same-o.
feather_lashes More than 1 year ago
Driving with the Top Down is a standalone, women's fiction novel written by author Beth Harbison. The story follows three different women, in three very different stages in their lives who unexpectedly end up on the same road trip together. Each character is experiencing a significant struggle, and the strength they share with each other during their time together binds them together and the result is beautiful. Driving with the Top Down is real, heartfelt, funny, and just a great book! It's been almost a week since I've read this (writing my review late) but I still have fond memories of my reading experience. If you're a fan of women's fiction, don't miss out on this one! My favorite quote: "Sometimes a little glow in the road ahead gave you hope for a moment, but turned out to be a mirage. And sometimes that mirage was pretty enough to keep you going just a little bit longer."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I listen to and read mystery, however, this caught my attention and I am so glad that it did. The story is so good and it gives you something to think about. This would be a good one for book clubs to discuss. It was great!
Mackie77 More than 1 year ago
I'm glad I read Ms. Harbison's other books before this book; I found the others much more to my liking, unlike this story which was a little tedious. Where did Piper go? As I was a somewhat bored, I found myself "flipping" through pages trying to find the interesting bits, so I assumed I had missed the key points about Piper ... no such luck, I couldn't find her again. I wanted to read more about Bitty, not just the initial then sex then basically nothing (yes - I understand it is chick lit - that's why I appreciate the ability to flip through the random sex scenes), more about the funny parts with the confrontation with the older woman, the cat and child at the auction, etc. I wanted to read more about Tamra; I was concerned about where the storyline would go with the party with the strangers (I'm glad it didn't get as crude as it could have been), and I wanted to read more about her relationship (if it went forward) with the rich classmate. I personally found Colleen insipid, and I wanted more (more about her business, the buying trip, items, whatever).
YellowZinnias More than 1 year ago
While not the best chick lit I've ever read, this was a nice, enjoyable and fairly light read. And to the lady complaining about the "f-word" and sex (it's CHICK LIT), please go back to your Bible and FOX News, mmk? Those of us educated enough to know that the concept of "bad words" is a ridiculous social construct and that there's nothing shameful about sex are entitled to have books that suit us. In fact, perhaps more entitled, since we're undoubtedly more literate.
BeachRead245 More than 1 year ago
Today I have the honor of sharing Beth Harbison’s latest novel Driving With the Top Down. I won this novel from Goodreads First Read and St. Martins Press in exchange for an honest review. I really enjoyed Beth’s last novel that I had a chance to share here. So I couldn’t wait to share this one! Synopsis: Colleen is debating about taking a business trip to find new pieces of furniture or trinkets for her shop. She turns junk into treasure. Since her husband Kevin is taking Jay their son to the Baseball Hall of Fame. What could she do with her time? She decides to go on a trip down the east coast visiting various auctions for work. There is one catch she must take her niece Tamara along, because her father doesn’t want her left alone at home. Will this be the road trip from hell or a good time? When the ladies leave and start traveling all starts as planned. They suddenly they find themselves in Colleen’s college hometown at a favorite diner. Who should be there but her old college friend Wilhelmina Camalier (Bitty). What is one more for the trip? Will they make their destination? My Thoughts: I really enjoyed this novel by Beth Harbison. She has been a hit or miss for me in the past. I am glad that I gave her another shot. I enjoyed the humor between the characters in the novel. I think the character that I enjoyed the most is Biddy. She definitely brought a lot of humor to the story and was an excellent addition. The character that I had a hard time liking initially is Tamara. I thought that Colleen explained Tamara’s family situation pretty well later in the novel. How many of us know people who don’t know what is truly missing in their lives? Many assumptions are made about why Tamara is the way she is, but it often misses the truth. Colleen’s job as an antiques dealer is something that I have read about before. I didn’t think it went into a lot of detail in what she does with making antiques shine or turning it into something new. The setting is the east coast from Maryland to Florida. A journey that will be enjoyed by all! Rating: 4.5/5 Please visit Beth on her Facebook Page, Twitter, and her Website.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Did anyone else notice that in the prologue Colleen a teenaged daughter named Piper who then promptly disappeared from the novel?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
LC112648LC More than 1 year ago
Driving with the Top Down... I have read every one of Beth's books.; I really, really enjoyed this one and would highly recommend it! Can't wait for her next book! Enjoy!
dhaupt More than 1 year ago
Colleen Bradley is happy with her discordant life but often wonders what would have happened if she hadn’t gotten pregnant 15yrs ago. Wonders if her husband would have still chosen her of if he would have spent his life with someone else. A boy’s trip for her son and husband gives her the perfect opportunity to plan a little road trip of her own to restock her antique shop Junk and Disorderly and to do a little soul searching. But the best laid plans are never faultless and she’s just learned her bump in the road will be sharing it with her recalcitrant 16yr old niece. Motherless and stuck with a father who rarely bothers except for dishing out punishment, which happens often for sixteen-year-old delinquent Tamara Bradley. She knows she’s heading down the wrong path but doesn’t seem able to stop and now she’s expected to go on this lame trip with a tattletale aunt who she doesn’t know or like. Bitty Camalier's life is in the toilet and she just wants to end it all but first she’s going to have one last meal for old times sake at the diner she and her college friends used to frequent, the last place she was happy. But when she leaves not only has her car been stolen with all her money and her suicide weapon but right there witnessing it all is a woman she hasn't seen in ages, her best friend from college who’s picking right up where she left off all those years ago and picking up the sorry pieces of Bitty’s life. What starts out, as a road trip for one quickly becomes a sojourn for these three wounded souls who will be different people at the end of this journey of self-discovery. Driving With The Top Down is a fabulous mix of Fried Green Tomatoes, Steel Magnolias and Thelma and Louise with the one-of-a-kind voice of Beth Harbison. Her storytelling brilliance shines through once again in this at times enlightening, disturbing and genuine tale of three very different women thrown together and all in need of healing. Her characters are funny, witty, wounded and amazingly authentic from the nurturing Colleen, the slightly narcissist/depressed Bitty and the devastatingly crushed and heading straight for disaster Tamara. Readers will laugh and cry, share the triumphs and tragedies but most of all will be right along on this very special journey. Her narrative brings to life the sights, sounds, people and cadence of the south gives a fly on the wall account of her special story. If it’s women’s fiction you love, Southern Fried fiction you crave or a real look at life you’re after this is your next must read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Susieqz68 More than 1 year ago
My favorite Beth Harbison book so far! I'm so horrible with writing reviews but I really wanted to write one for this book. I have loved every Beth Harbison book that I have read and I had no doubt that I would love this one as well. This book ended up being my favorite of hers so far. It made me laugh and it made me cry. I found myself wanting to give Tam a big motherly hug (and I'm not a mother). My heart just broke for her. I won't get into what it is about because you can read that in the synopsis and I don't want to give any spoilers. You know when you read a really good book and it just sticks with you for a while? This one is going to do that to me, I know! If you are a Beth Harbison fan then I am very sure you will love this book as well. If you have never read any of her books you should definitely pick this one up. I am sure it will make you want to read more.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am a mystery lover at heart so I do not usually read this type of book. I am so glad I decided to take a chance on this one. I loved every minute of the book. It was funny and sad with complex charachters that are real. Everyone should be able to find something in these women you can identify with. I loved it.
jingleJE More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! Wonderful read about the successes and struggles of families and friendships!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book may be interesting once I get back the f-words and the explicit sex accounts. I don't know why more of our authors can't see that the story they are trying to tell would be just fine without the f-words and sex. We all know what goes on between man and woman and we all have imaginations. I think this book stinks