The Surviving Trace by Calia Read ~ Sarah A’s Review

Will is my fiancé. The shy man I met years ago in college. The person I’m supposed to spend the rest of my life with.

This is the life I’ve always wanted until finding a picture of four men changes everything…

Etienne says he’s my husband and the year is 1912. He can’t stand the sight of me, but I don’t know why.

Oh, and he’s one of the men from the picture.

I’ve done the impossible and have become trapped in time and I know Etienne is my key to going home.

The more time I spend with Etienne, the further I fall for him, until I’m questioning which time I belong in and if the life I left behind is the one I truly desire.

All I know for certain is I need to survive time.

I need to survive love.

And I need to make it out on the other side alive.

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I love Calia Read, I’ve read everything she’s published. When I saw the cover for this book, I was enamored; it’s so freaking beautiful. However, when I read the synopsis, I wasn’t sold. Time travel? Not my thing. So, I took a step back and thought about it for a minute, I knew Calia wouldn’t lead me astray, and I threw myself into this book full steam ahead; such a great decision. The Surviving Trace was wonderful and different than anything else I’ve ever read.

The world building in this novel was phenomenal. I felt as if I’d been plucked right out of my living room and dropped into early 2oth century Charleston. Calia Read did an amazing job of capturing the feeling of a world before our time and how it would feel to suddenly be transplanted to a world without all the modern conveniences we enjoy. I loved how intensely Serene initially rebelled against her new life and how she slowly became more comfortable in 1912 Charleston than she was in her own time.

Étienne had a certain je ne sais quoi. Even when he was hard-headed and obtuse, there was something about him that was intensely enchanting. Getting past his gruff exterior to the center of who he was: a wonderfully compassionate, understanding, sensitive man. He was the perfect foil to Serene’s hugely colorful and outspoken persona. When they were together the electricity between them was palpable, and their dynamic was so entertaining. I was obsessed with how they knew how to push each other to the brink, then back with a single look.

I was completely enraptured with The Surviving Trace from the first page. The plot was insane; it had to be for it to work as sublimely as it did. I particularly loved how this whole thing started with an old photograph found at a flea market. That something so seemingly inconsequential could forever change the world was everything. It made this story feel so much bigger than a book. From there Serene herself said it best, ‘Nothing is impossible, and everything is a lie.’ I never knew what to expect because this story was so wholly unlike anything I’ve ever read. It was an entirely new and unique reading experience for me, and I can’t wait for more of it.

My biggest wish for this would be a correction to the timeline in 1912. I’m not going to delineate the entire timeline here, because it would spoil certain parts of the book, but there are about 12 weeks (3 months) accounted for, yet only two months pass. In a book about time travel, the dates that we get are very important, so it was a little frustrating. There were also several editorial mistakes: misspelled words, typos, incorrect usage of apostrophes, that need some attention.

The Surviving Trace is the first book in Calia Read’s Surviving Time series. This is a continuous storyline, involving the same primary characters and the books will have to be read to understand their story. The Surviving Trace is written in first-person perspective; most chapters are narrated by Serene with a few in Étienne’s point-of-view.

I first discovered Calia Read several years ago, I’ve reread her Sloan Brothers series a few times, and her Fairfax series is one of the most well-written looks into mental health I’ve read. Figure Eight was literary perfection in the way it made me feel like I was losing my grip on reality just as surely as Selah was. Ms. Read is a master of placing me firmly in the middle of the worlds she’s built, to the point it feels like I have a hard time discerning my reality from the fiction she’s woven.

“You have questions,” I say flatly.

“If the roles were reversed, what would you do?”

I glance at him from the corner of my eye. “I’d be demanding answers to the thousands of questions running through my head.”  


“So ask,” I say slowly. “But don’t stare. The people around us are doing enough of that.”

“Let me tell you a well-known fact about yourself, Mrs. Lacroix. You and I are hardly ever seen in public together, and the times we are, we barely look at each other.”

“Should I push away from you and tell you I hate you?” I ask innocently.

He snorts and, still staring straight ahead, the smallest of smirks graces his face. “It might make me feel better.”

A beat of silence passes by.

“I have a question.”

Étienne lifts a brow.

“When was the last time you were seen with… her?”

He goes silent for a few seconds. “Two months ago?”

“Good Lord. Why are you two even married?” I blurt before I can think twice. Almost immediately, I want to take the words back, but it isn’t as if Étienne cares.

He remains stoic as ever and shrugs a shoulder. “I ask myself that every day.”

His words spark a series of new questions. I have to remind myself I need to pace myself and not ask everything all at once.

“Also, it may benefit you to know that people might be starin’ because you’re walkin’ down the street in the middle of the day.”

My head whips in his direction. “Did your wife break one of her legs or something?”

Étienne gives a hearty laugh. It’s loud enough to earn the stares of people walking past us and powerful enough to make my heart speed up. God, when he smiles, it’s something else.  

“No, not at all,” he eventually replies. “People of wealth don’t walk unless it’s necessary. They take cars or horse and buggy. In fact, you see the buggy across the street?”

I crane my neck and see a buggy with a pale face staring out the back window. After the woman inside sees me staring at her, she moves away from the window. “Yeah?”

“That’s Lailah, one of your dearest friends. She probably thinks you’re gravely ill and have no idea what you’re doing right now, walkin’ down the street. I’m sure she’ll make a call to the house to see if you’re all right.”

“I can’t wait,” I say, deadpan.

Étienne stares at me with his brows furrowed as if I’m a puzzle he’s painstakingly putting together and he can’t seem to find all the pieces. I clear my throat and look away. The way he’s watching at me is unnerving.

The two of us become silent again. Fine with me; my eyes are drawn to the window display to my right. I slow down and watch as two women walk into the general store. There are handwritten signs in the window, and I stop long enough to read them. Coffee is only fifteen cents a pound, and eggs? They’re fourteen cents for a dozen. Another sign promotes a new toothpaste. The most prominent sign is for Coca-Cola that says, “Relieves fatigue. Drink Coca-Cola.” In a smaller font beneath, it says it’s sold everywhere for only five cents.

Cupping my hands over my eyes, I press my forehead against the window pane and peer inside. I can’t help myself. A huge part of me wants to go inside, but if I did, I wouldn’t be content until I’d looked at each item. This is the second-best thing.

“Serene? Are you coming?”

I turn and see Étienne impatiently waiting a few steps ahead. Reluctantly, I look away from the display and walk toward him.

“What was so fascinating?”

“I was looking at the display.”

“You don’t have Coca-Cola in your time?” he asks.

“Oh, we do. Just not for five cents.”

“How much?”

My eyes slide to Étienne; he stares at me with open curiosity.

“I don’t know how much a single bottle is,” I confess. “I usually buy a twelve-pack, and that’s about four dollars?”

For once, it’s Étienne’s turn to look shocked. I smile because I recognize the hunger in his eyes. He has thousands of questions that demand answers.

He opens his mouth and idly looks to his left before he does a double-take and abruptly stops and gestures to the door next to him. “Here we are.”

We stop in front of a door with textured glass. Embossed on the spotless, large window are the words E.A.L. Corporation.     

“Obviously you remember where I work from the last time you were here,” he remarks dryly.

I nod. “I thought your family owned a shipping company?”

“We do. Livingston works in the main office near the docks. I started my own company three years ago strictly for investments and real estate ventures.”

“Are you any good at what you do?” I challenge.

Would I typically be this blunt? No. But things between Étienne and me didn’t change overnight. I see the mistrust in his eyes. When he looks at me, he still sees his bitchy wife. And that’s okay, because I have a fiancé back home, waiting for me. Being polite is a pretense that neither one of us wants to use right now. Saying precisely what’s on my mind is a bit liberating.

“I like to think that I’m mildly successful at investing.”

I narrow my eyes at him. He’s being modest, and I don’t know why.

Étienne goes to open the door. I place my hand on his arm, stopping him in his tracks. He looks at my hand, then my face with curiously.

“Before we go in, I wanted to talk to you about something.” He says nothing, just stares at me with those whip-smart eyes. I take a deep breath and drop my hand to my side. “I can’t be like her all the time.”

“How so?”

“Oh, come on, you’re not blind. You saw how people were staring at us! It’s obvious that the two of you can’t stand the sight of each other.”

He reluctantly says, “Yes.”

“I know it’s probably in my best interest to keep up appearances, but I have no desire to go out of my way to be extra bitchy to you. I hope that means you won’t be a huge asshole to me.”

“Extra bitchy… has anyone told you that you have an amazing way with words?”

“I’m serious.”  

His eyes rake me from head to toe in that ruthless, cut-throat way of his. “You understand that a decision like that will make people talk. Some might think we’re… happy.”

“Let them talk.” I shrug. “I want to go home. And I know you’re the key. Consider me your new shadow. Where you go, so do I.”

Étienne looks at me for a moment longer before he nods. “Very well. We shall be kind to each other from here on out.”

I hold out my hand. “Let’s shake on it.”

He stares at my hand warily before his hand curves around mine.

It would be cliché to say that the minute our hands connected, I became frozen in place or a shock of awareness rushed through me. But something did happen and it was none of those things. It started with a small twist in my gut that traveled up my body, grazed the delicate edges of my heart before it seized it all together. The feeling came out of nowhere. I look at our connected hands. His is large and calloused, swallowing mine whole. As tall as I am, dainty isn’t exactly the first word I’d use to describe myself, but that’s how I feel right now. I jerk my hand back.

Étienne’s hard and unyielding face makes it impossible to tell if he felt the same way. He clears his throat and wordlessly holds the door open for me.

Calia Read lives in Texas with her husband and their five kids.

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