Skip to main content

Readers' Comments for Shotgun Lovesongs

In January, a select group of readers who participated in one of our Special Contests won copies of SHOTGUN LOVESONGS, Nickolas Butler’s lyrical debut. It’s the story of four friends who were all born and raised in the same small Wisconsin town, and the powerful, tensile bond of their friendship --- held together by the inescapable pull of home. Take a look at some of the readers' comments to give you more insight into this novel --- and make sure to watch out for SPOILERS!

In SHOTGUN LOVESONGS Nickolas Butler captures the rhythms of small-town living in Little Wing, Wisconsin. His lyrical descriptions of the sunrises, sunsets, countryside, wildlife and weather give you an understanding of the connection the characters feel to their hometown. He follows the lives and loves of a group of friends as they pursue their dreams. Hank marries Beth and takes over his family's struggling dairy farm, while their best friend Lee becomes an indie rock star and travels all over the world. Ronny follows the rodeo circuit until a serious injury brings him back home. Kip becomes a successful financial broker in Chicago. Despite their financial success in their chosen careers, Lee and Kip yearn to return to the simple way of life in Little Wing. Each chapter is narrated by a different character, giving you a deeper empathy for life from his or her perspective. The characters are so well drawn, thoughts of them will linger long after you finish reading their story. I would recommend SHOTGUN LOVESONGS to readers who enjoyed Pat Conroy's Beach Music or South of Broad. Nickolas Butler is definitely "One to Watch" and I will look forward to his next book.

I completely loved SHOTGUN LOVESONGS. There were several reasons why: One, it was told by several voices, all the main characters of the book. Two, it had a very homey small town America feel, which I loved. Three, the writing was just fabulous. I would definitely read more from this author. It was a beautiful story of love, friendship and betrayal, and I felt better for having read it. I didn't want it to end. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves to read about small town American places, friendship and relationships, and is a fiction lover. I am giving my mom this book to read next.

I thoroughly enjoyed this beautiful story of people struggling with life and all of the changes they must make to live with "Plan B." The main characters are ultimately able to stay the course in all of the important relationships in their lives, and Butler does a great job of detailing how difficult that is. This was a page-turner for me, and I became very committed to the characters and their stories. But the writing is what really grabbed me. 

The Midwest setting was especially compelling. As a born and bred Midwesterner who fell for a long time under the charms of the South and its writers, the lyrical writing of the farmlands and failing small towns of the rural Midwest where I now live and work rang true. There is real beauty here, and Butler captured both the people and the land so well. 

I will recommend this book to family and friends and have already promised to loan my copy to a co-worker. 

I look forward to the success of this novel!  Have the movie rights been sold???

I love when you are caught in a story from the first words. I really enjoyed SHOTGUN LOVESONGS. It was very well written and the story was one you didn't want to end. It tells the stories of five people separately, but also connects their lives. I did enjoy the location of the story as I am from Iowa and know where all the towns, except for Little Wing, are. I am recommending it to all my friends and telling them if they want to read a good book to read this one. I will tell them it's a book that doesn't get slow and keeps your attention. And it’s also a good story.

Susan W.
My impressions of SHOTGUN LOVESONGS by Nicholas Butler:

This is a beautifully written portrayal of lifelong friendships told in alternating chapters between five people who grew up in small town America. Although each character grew up with each other, it is Leland "Lee" Sutton who seems to hold the strongest thread with all of them. Lee is a music star, Ronny is a former rodeo star, Kip is an investor, Henry farms and Beth is Henry's wife. Butler tells a realistic story of the ups and downs of longtime friendships as well as the ups and downs of married life.

I would recommend this to those who like literary novels or books with strong, well-developed characters.

Claire --- This comment contains mild SPOILERS.
Hello fellow book lovers!

When people say "Don't judge a book by its cover," they're usually talking about things other than books. But that phrase is what I was thinking as I opened the package I received from Bookreporter a few days ago. The cover art and the title didn't appeal to me, nor did the blurbs on the back, and I was calculating how much I would have to read before I could report back that I didn't like the story. But, as soon as I began reading, I was drawn by the lyrical prose into the lives and thoughts of the characters. I enjoyed the author's technique of having a different character advance the story in each chapter, and I became very fond of them all by the end of the book. They all became real to me, and I found myself talking to them at times: "Get up, Ronny, don't you dare die in the snow," and "What are you thinking, Lee, leave Beth alone!"

I am going to share this book with my book club, because we are a group of women in our 60s, all with children about the age of the characters, some of who have moved away and some who still live in the area where they grew up. I think this will spark a great discussion about the struggles people face as they mature and the experience of having lifelong friends. 

Thank you for the opportunity to read this book, because I might not have bought it for myself based on my initial reaction to the cover.

Don't judge a book by its cover! Honestly, I would never have picked this book up due to the unappealing cover, but boy I'm glad I read it. This could be my “book of THE year.” I thoroughly enjoyed the writing and the characters in this story. I didn't want it to end. The book is about five friends in their 30s; I am in my 50s but the story resonated with me. I'm passing it on to my 23-year-old daughter and then having her pass it on to my 75-year-old mother. It's a timeless story. I certainly hope Nickolas Butler is hard at work on his next novel!

SHOTGUN LOVESONGS, the first novel of Nickolas Butler, is an easy read that takes you into the lives of a group of friends from a small Wisconsin town, letting you see their youth, their marriages (and divorces) and their interaction with one another. 

SHOTGUN LOVESONGS is an easy read, and Butler uses both description and conversation. At times the words flow across the pages; at other times he uses crisp, short sentences. At all times he keeps the reader wanting to continue reading. His characters are believable. I thought their lives were both heartwarming and saddening. He shows that life in this north central community is like life throughout the United States.

SHOTGUN LOVESONGS encourages the reader to embrace his own youth and friendships. For me there was Wally and Winston, Bruce, Merle, Dick, John, Albert and Broomhead. High school and Boy Scout friends, we shared great times together. Then it was off to college, university and seminary. Some returned to our community. Among the group is a doctor, a dentist, a banker, a minister, a university professor, a farmer and a department store owner/manager. Others moved away to Wisconsin, Hawaii, Washington, California and Nevada. 

I'd recommend this book to readers who wish to dwell on the lives of others and find pleasure in their own lives.

Call your friends because SHOTGUN LOVESONGS will make you want to connect with them. I really enjoyed this book. Each chapter is written as a different person talking, so you get to know all of the characters in the novel. The setting is in small farm town USA, but even if you grew up in the big city you should read this book. It explores the emotions of best friends as they mature into who they will be. The jealousy and love that they have for each other is raw, and you find yourself right there with them. Nickolas Butler is an author to watch.

I related to this book in so many ways. I grew up in a small rural town in Central Iowa, the daughter of hard working farmers and raised a Lutheran. The author captured the essence of Midwest small towns --- a feeling that city kids miss out on.  The bonds the characters retained from childhood through their adult lives, the ups and down of their lives as they found themselves and what they were meant to be as they grew up and what was truly important in life is what I took from the book. The male characters were just that…characters… and I enjoyed their humorous escapades. I will look forward to another book by Nickolas Butler. 

SHOTGUN LOVESONGS --- where do I start? I absolutely loved this book! Maybe because I’m from a small rural town that depends on agriculture and an almost-closed army defense plant, maybe because my husband is a third-generation farmer, maybe because I meet once a month with former classmates for lunch or maybe just because the book is pure poetry to read. Nicolas Butler's descriptions remind me of the way Walt Whitman piled on words to create such a full, vivid, concrete picture.

I always read with a red pencil in my hand to mark favorite passages, and I have underlined and starred the margins throughout SHOTGUN LOVESONGS! Nickolas Butler’s lyrical words resonated with me, and I think they will with many readers. This passage is such a good example. When Beth compares Felicia and Kip’s bedroom to hers and thinks, “Not even for an instant was I envious of Felicia’s life, which then appeared before me as so fashionably barren. Ours was a home. A nest. A place well lived in, and loved. Maybe it’s a good thing, from time to time, to spy on other people’s lives. For me, anyway, it has the effect of making my own life feel like a well-loved thing.” (83)

I can’t wait to tell my unofficial book club of reader friends, the Real Readers, how they must read this book. I’ll tell them that it’s a beautiful depiction of a dying small town in Wisconsin (much like my own hometown in Texas); that the characters shared a childhood and teen years and now, a decade later, some stay in Little Wing, some leave but return to recharge in the safe haven of familiar surroundings and some try to run away but can’t find the exit. I’ll tell them that if they have two or three longtime friends, this novel will help them appreciate how fortunate they are.

SHOTGUN LOVESONGS is a pretty special book. I read quite a lot of books, but this is, I believe, one of the few I have read where I felt like I'd made new best friends by the end of the book! A great cast of characters in Henry, Lee, Kip, Ronny, Beth and even the bartender at the VFW. I really got sucked into the characters’ lives. Lee, going from rags to riches in the music business, but never really being happy --- or never able to get his home town of Little Wing out of his blood, along with his best friend’s wife, Beth, off his mind. Beth and Henry, the only two of the gang of friends to stay in town, and not leave to make fortunes like Lee with his music and Ken with his investments. Yet Beth and Henry seem to be the happiest. One of my favorite parts of the book was when Ronny’s dad, Cecil, gave a heartbroken Lee a piece of his mind at Henry and Beth's wedding --- it was perfect! SHOTGUN LOVESONGS is a very enjoyable book about friends from a small town growing up, growing apart and, in the end, coming back together, as well as the good and bad changes that happen in all their lives. I enjoyed this book. I would strongly recommend this book to fiction readers who like a good story with very believable characters and a storyline that many of us can truly relate to.

I would recommend SHOTGUN LOVESONGS to my book club and really to anyone looking for a good book to curl up with on a cold weekend. I loved the way the story flowed; I adored the characters and the place they called home. The only thing I would say is that some of the male readers I know may find an issue with the affection verbally stated between the men in the book. 

The story takes place in a very little town called Little Wing in the heart of the Midwest. It’s about the brotherhood of cherished childhood friends into their adult lives. The storyline makes everyday life struggles bearable. As the characters follow their dreams in Little Wing and beyond, it makes you laugh and it brings you to tears. It’s the perfect book.

I am looking forward to Nickolas Butler’s next book. And I wish him well.

Linda K.
I loved SHOTGUN LOVESONGS. I would recommend this book to those who enjoy fiction of childhood friends and the dynamics that evolve as we grow older. Many things change, but the past history is a strong reminder.

I have lived in the same community all my life, moving only from my parents home to my home with my husband. I have many of the same friends and have seen how they have changed. I have experienced many of the same things that Henry and Beth have experienced in the story. 

Great read; I couldn't put it down.

I wasn't sure what to think of this book at first. After the first 150 pages, I wasn't positive that I wanted to finish reading it. Boy, am I glad I did. This book really looks at friendships in a different light than most of the other books I have read. It made me think back to all the rights and wrongs I have done to different friends in my lifetime. I wanted to call my best friend just to apologize for not being a better friend. I feel that most people would benefit from reading this book. It could just make you be a better person.

I will share the following thoughts with the three book clubs that I advise, my weekly literature class and friends who love to read. It is a pleasure to find such a talented new writer.

“If you have ever lived in a small town or drove through a small town you will be enchanted with this novel. It is a wonderfully unexpected love song to the people who grew up together and loved each other and sometimes hurt each other. Written in lyrical, descriptive language you can almost smell the farmland and watch the seasons pass. It will touch your heart.”

As a native of Wisconsin, I have a predilection for books that capture with authenticity the Midwestern experience. In that regard, SHOTGUN LOVESONGS by Nickolas Butler fully delivers. More so than any book I have recently read, Butler captures the temperate passions, loyalties and subtle dramas of Midwestern lives. He captures the nuances of conversation, taverns like the VFW, the landscape and concerns of humble people with deep lives and strong loyalties.

Following the lives of high school friends turned middle-aged adults, Henry, Lee, Ronny, Kip and Beth, Butler explores how their hometown ties continue to shape them and how the siren song of "home" continues to call.

I liked how the chapters were told in alternating voices. One weakness I perceived was that the various characters’ voices were not distinct enough from one another, and occasionally used words that did not seem authentic (e.g. when Henry refers to a vernal smell in the air). But that is a small nitpick in what is, overall, a story told well and one that shows great affection for Midwestern lives and honors the pull of home: those brave enough to leave and perhaps the braver ones who don't.

I understand that this is loosely based upon the life of Bon Iver. That is an interesting tie-in and makes me want to dig a bit deeper into that now that I've completed the novel. As a Wisconsin girl who has called California home now for 22 years, this novel resonated with me. I will definitely pick up Mr. Butler's next book, and look forward to reading more of his work in the future.

I completely enjoyed SHOTGUN LOVESONGS. The characters were interesting, and their stories wove together beautifully. The author told the tale through the perspective of several characters, so you see the story from many sides. The story follows a group of high school friends --- now grown up --- from a small town, and as true to all small towns, some people leave and some stay. This particular story included one character who became famous, which was an interesting twist. How the group does or doesn't remain friends is one of the themes that kept me interested.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a story about people and friendships. I will share it with my book group and my mother.

SHOTGUN LOVESONGS was quite delightful. It was an easy read and evoked many memories of friendships from childhood and my teenage years. I wanted to start searching for my long lost friends immediately! The book is based in rural Wisconsin and although I grew up in a suburb of Chicago, I could identify with many of the characters and descriptions. Speaking of descriptions, Mr. Butler has an uncanny talent for terrific detailed imagery. I felt like I was right there! 

When I received SHOTGUN LOVESONGS, I was immediately excited to read it, since I grew up in the general area where the fictional book took place. Not only was it engaging to read about local points of interest, I thoroughly enjoyed the book, its story and the characters.

Set in rural Northwestern Wisconsin, SHOTGUN LOVESONGS paints a picture of a typical small town. The main characters in the novel grew up together; their lives and friendships intertwined then and do again when they reconnect in their 30s. I connected with the characters' within the context of their friendships with each other and their individual stories.

SHOTGUN LOVESONGS was a book I had a hard time putting down; I couldn't get the story out of my head and couldn't wait to pick it up again to find out what happened.

SHOTGUN LOVESONGS is a great read and I feel it will be well received. The story centers around four friends (male) from a small rural Wisconsin town, who grew up together in the ‘80s. They were all different to a degree, but they shared the background of their town, school, etc. The story brings in the characters of girlfriends, and eventually wives, and develops these characters as well, blending them into the story, which takes place in present day.

What makes this book unique, I think, is that each chapter tells the story in a continuing arc from the point of view of a different character. The story continues, but it continues with a different character telling it. I'm not sure if I've read a book from that angle before. I am in my 60s, but did enjoy the book immensely and feel it was very well written, especially character development. I think the 40-something reader will especially relate to this book. I would describe it as a coming-of-age book, with poignant moments. Also from reading other reviews, apparently one of the characters in the book is based on a real person (a rocker from Wisconsin named Bon Iver).

Linda S.
The book captures the best of the Midwest. It features life-long friendships that may change, but don't stop. I think the book would be read by almost anyone interested in friendship --- especially male friendship.

I really liked this book even though I usually read mysteries and thrillers. Sometimes you feel like watching a blockbuster movie like Iron Man, and sometimes you feel like taking a timeout and watching an indie movie like Nebraska or Juno. This book reminds of an indie movie. It plopped me into someone else's life for a few hours. The people who populate this book are completely different from my born and bred in Los Angeles lifestyle, but that's a good thing. Since we only get one life, it is nice to see how other choices could have turned out.

This book is about a group of friends from a small farming town in Wisconsin. It is about how your choices define what your entire life will be like, and how one bad decision might lead to a lifetime of regrets. I felt like I knew these people better than most of my friends. At the end of this novel, I was already missing the people within it.

I would recommend this book to anyone who has regrets about the decisions they made early in their life. It would also be excellent for people who like literary fiction. I'm sure we will be hearing more from Mr. Butler as he has a strong writing voice.

Noreen --- This comment contains mild SPOILERS.
I liked SHOTGUN LOVESONGS. The four friends kept me wanting to know what's next. The wives and girlfriends were good, too. All of the characters and scenes were true to life. I'd recommend it to everyone. It's a good and interesting story of small town life. The telling of the secret was unexpected. I didn't want that to happen.

I thought the 'egg' result was a bit far-fetched. I think they could have come up with a plausible excuse for what happened initially.

Julie S.
I received a copy of SHOTGUN LOVESONGSby Nickolas Butler and just finished reading it.

I did find it a bit slow to start, but ended up really enjoying it. I found the chapter with initials a bit confusing...I always had to take a minute to figure out who was doing the writing and/or talking.

I enjoyed the very life-like presentation of the rural Wisconsin community of Little Wing. I grew up in a mountain community, so I enjoyed this setting and found it very realistic.

The story hit home with me because of the theme of finding your way home, wherever it may be. I also enjoyed the story of male friendship; I thought this was done very well.

All in all, an enjoyable read with characters who linger...

Susan M.
SHOTGUN LOVESONGS is a story about longtime friends from a small Wisconsin town. Each chapter is written in the voice of one of five people. The stories of the lives of these people for many years involved their jobs, money they made or didn’t make or lost, loves in their lives and lots of drinking. It is written in a way that certainly keeps you reading. The language was not to my liking, but I understand why it was used in this particular story. The author wrote it well and kept you wondering how it would really turn out. I would recommend the book as it does tell the stories of lives of people who were very real and honest to a point about their particular circumstances.

I liked this book, but did not “love” it. I enjoyed exploring the small town but felt all the chapters (voices of the different characters) were somewhat the same. They all felt and sounded the same. However, there is hope and healing in this book among friends. It was interesting to me as being from a small town, to see people “coming home” again and the effect on old friends. I think this author has fantastic potential and I look forward to the next book by this author.

Linda D.
This is the story of four men who grew up in a small town in Wisconsin: a farmer, who is taking care of the family farm and is married to his high school sweetheart; a former commodity trader; a former rodeo; and a rock star. The only man who stayed in the hometown is the farmer. The book describes the friendships and rivalries between these men in this typical small town in the Midwest. It is a page-turner even though not much is going on in the story. Therefore, I would describe this book as being "quiet." Despite this, it was still a page-turner for me.

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes reading books classified as "general" or "literary" fiction. Because of the "lack of drama," I would not recommend it to readers who are big fans of thrillers or mysteries since they probably would get "bored" with this novel. If readers are huge "chick lit" fans, this book is not for them either. This was a different book for me because all the "friendship" books I've read so far dealt with women as main characters. I enjoyed the book because it was something different for once --- I would term it as a "dude lit" since its theme is male friendships.

My only criticism about the book is that it was narrated by five people: the four male friends and one of their wives (Henry's wife, Beth). Usually, I don't have a problem with that (multiple narrators). However, I found the "voices" of the narrators to be the same, which made it difficult sometimes to remember who was telling the story without going back to the beginning of the chapter, especially in a chapter where there is a long narration and little dialogue. Beth's voice, to me, sounded like one of the guys. Ronny, who was brain damaged and was described as being a "little" slow, did not sound that way during his turn at narrating. His being "slow" was shown in one of the chapters narrated by someone else (the one describing Kip's bachelor's party). But when I got to his narration, my reaction was "huh?"  So with that said, I think the book should have been narrated in the third person.

Overall, I enjoyed the book and it is a good debut. This book is definitely "One to Watch."

I certainly think any book group would be pleased to discuss SHOTGUN LOVESONGS by Nickolas Butler, since it has the many aspects of friendship, trust, forgiveness, etc. I couldn't put it down and finished it in short order. If I have a criticism of it, it would be the chapter formats (which alternated perspectives) --- it took me a bit to realize which friend was talking in the various chapters. The initials have a similarity in some cases --- the R and K especially. Why not a whole name, or something? The ending was a little abrupt, but that can be forgiven, much as the friends forgave small (and sometimes large) facts. It did make me wonder if there is a continuing story in the works.

Linda B.
At first I could not get into SHOTGUN LOVESONGS. I put it down figuring I would not read it anymore. But I pick it up again and gave it a try again. To my surprise I began to like it. It reminded me of someone writing down his or her point of view in a diary. I would give the book a 3 star out of 5 stars.

Mary Lou --- This comment contains SPOILERS.
I'm not sure about SHOTGUN LOVESONGS. I liked some of it; the part about the Wisconsin countryside, and what it was about that land that made the people feel right about calling it home. I liked that the characters, Lee and Kip and Ronny and Beth and Hank/Henry all went to school together. I liked that Beth and Felicia became friends, and that Chloe fit in for a while, too. I liked the life that Beth and Henry had together.

Here's what I didn't like: I didn't like the way that Lee kept the secret about him and Beth quiet all those years, and then just totally blew it one night for no good reason. It seemed so out of character. Lee was a loyal and true guy, look how he cared about Ronny and paid his bills and basically supported him. Why would he turn around and stab his best friend Henry with the knowledge that he and Beth had slept together, when he would have had to know and understand how much that would have hurt Henry? That whole storyline just simply did not make sense to me, not given the kind of person that Lee was.

On the other hand, the resolution of the rift between Henry and Beth seemed realistic, given that often time heals all wounds, and husbands and wives just have to work around things to make their marriages work --- if the marriages are going to work at all, that is.

What I absolutely did not like was the final episode concerning the jar of pickled eggs and what happened with that whole thing. The throwing of the egg and getting shot, I think that was so contrived I almost threw the book across the room. Sure, let's resolve our outstanding issue that you slept with my wife by stealing a jar of pickled eggs, throwing the eggs at cars and then getting shot at. Oh, and yes, you get wounded and we can bond over that, too. For heaven's sake, these are 30- or 40-something year old men, not high school teenagers.

So bottom line, I loved the characters in this book, and I loved the setting, but I did not like the plotline. It felt contrived. It left me unsatisfied. It should have left me feeling thoughtful and pensive about friends, friendships and life, and instead it left me thinking about bottles of pickled eggs.

One more thought: I think Mr. Butler writes very well and I would definitely give a second novel a go. First novels are sometimes not so great anyway, so I think he should keep on writing. Maybe do some short stories. I think each of the characters in SHOTGUN LOVESONGS would absolutely shine in their own short story.

I'm sorry to say SHOTGUN LOVESONGS was not the book for me. I did finish it. I would say someone who knows who Bon Iver is --- which I didn't --- would enjoy this book. The story centers on a small town in Wisconsin. We meet five teens --- adults now --- who grew up together and are now reuniting in later life. They are now in their 30s. We meet Bon Iver a musician, who the story is about. After many years, he has returned to the small Wisconsin town he grew up in. We meet his friends who he has reunited with and each of them tells us about his or her experience growing up in a small town and the effect it had on him or her. At times I did find it hard to read and keep my mind on the story. The characters I just did not find that interesting, nor their story. I really wanted to like the book, but it was just not for me. I would recommend this to someone who is interested in small towns and who knows who Bon Iver is.