I'd like some fiction suggestions to get me pumped up for the trip next summer. Thanks!
Trinity by Leon Uris is pretty well known for Irish history. It chronicles the time from the famine to the Easter Rebellion through the eyes of 3 families.
For the UK, I love all things Phillipa Gregory and her ficton writings about the Tudor Era.
I'm not sure what you like but the Maeve Binchy books are set in modern day Ireland.
For the UK, where to start? Jane Austen, the Brontes, Dickens, Daphne du Maurier, Thomas Hardy, AS Byatt, PD James, Rosamunde Pilcher. Bill Bryson's Notes from a Small Island is nonfiction but is brilliant. The James Herriot books if you're going to Yorkshire.
If Scotland is on your itinerary, look for Ian Rankin's mysteries. Also, Robert Louis Stevenson, Other mystery authros--Elizabeth George set in modern London and UK; Peter Robinson set in modern Yorkshire; Diane Gabaldon's Outlander novels about Scotland and US--time travel; Peter Tremayne's novels on Ireland and the Celtic Church; Candace Robb set in medieval Scotland and England; Susanna Gregory medieval England. Michael Jecks, Templar Knight in England. And many many more. ; )
Edmund Rutherford has several on both England and Ireland. Long meaty books with lots of history. Ruth Rendell, who is also Barbara Vine, is my favorite. Lots of London books. She'll be in the mystery section. Tana French's In the Woods is set in Ireland, as is Nuala O'Faolain's My Dream of You. Paul Theroux's Kingdom by the Sea. Rosamunde Pilcher.
I'd suggest for background and history before you go, the Rutherford books, Bill Bryson and Theroux. Then something lighter for traveling, like Rendell or PD James, or Ian Rankin for Scotland.
By the way, what a wonderful assignment-read lots of Brit Lit to get ready for a trip.
I really enjoyed Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth. Also [oldie but goodie] Katharine by Anya Seton - about John of Gaunt's mistress, Katharine Swynford; it was a thrill to see her tomb in Lincoln last summer. Georgette Heyer wrote a lot of lighthearted Regency romances, and D.E. Stevenson has light novels set in relatively modern times [also writing in the 50s and 60s]. Dorothy Sayers' Peter Wimsey mysteries are also excellent.
Thomas Costain also wrote a very easy-to-read history of the Plantagenets in 4 volumes - I know you said fiction but I can't resist recommending them! And of course that leads me to Josephine Tey's Daughter of Time which clearly demonstrates that Richard III did NOT kill the Princes in the Tower...
Well, it's not fiction but I did read the book "round Ireland with a fridge" by Tony Hawk before I went on my trip and I thought it was hilarious, and made me very excited to go!
If going to Edinburgh, Ian Rankin, Inspector Rebus mysteries are invaluable. Very atmospheric and descriptive of locale. Having been fortunate enough to have visited last year, I thoroughly enjoy his stories as well as revisiting the city. I have read most of the other authors mentioned by the previous respondees and agree wholeheartedly. One mentioned Rosamunde Pilcher who is one of my all time favorite British authors and I have read all of her novels as well as her son's, Robin Pilcher. Hers is set mainly in England and his is often set in Scotland. Both excellent. I will not repeat what the others have said because they have given excellent advice. Enjoy!
Ireland (a novel) by Frank Delaney (2005)
Absolutely -- Frank Delaney's "Ireland"!!
I love this question and all the replies! I must add my recent discovery, even though I don't know how "recent" they are. Try author M.C.Beaton. It takes place in the northern highlands, north of Inverness even! If you're able to obtain audio versions (I got five of them through my local library download feature), you may enjoy it more. The narrator is wonderful, and in my uneducated opinion, nails the dialect. Delightful to hear! These are a series, and although only 5 were available to me, one of them was number 25! There's lots of them out there somewhere, and they're not gory depressing murder mysteries, more focused on the colorful characters of the little village, and trying to solve the murder by clever sleuthing! Delicious lighthearted reading, or in my case, "listening" taking place during modern time. Looking forward to hearing more suggestions from all of you!
Oh, and one more, Jeffrey Archer, Prisoner of Birth. Great story, and this is another that I "listened" to, compliments of a free download of my local library. Once again, an outstanding narrator with the Scottish/London dialects that will have you aching to want to be there!
In addition to his novel Ireland, Delaney's latest (2009) novel of Ireland is Shannon.
For Ireland, I would recommend Roddy Doyle’s A Star Called Henry. It takes place during the time leading up to the Irish War of Independence including the Easter Rising, but it’s not written like a typical historical novel. It feels very personal and intimate and yet epic at the same time. I haven’t had the chance to go to Ireland, but when I was watching Rick’s episode on Dublin and he showed the post office that was the setting of one of the major events, I gasped and actually felt like I was seeing someplace that I had been told about by a friend. Plus, Doyle has a great ear for his fellow Irishmen's speech; his dialogue is full wonderful, authentic Irish turns of phrase.
Alexander McCall Smith's Scotland Street series are great stories that take place in Edinburgh.
Two more wonderful authors are P. G. Wodehouse, who wrote hiliarious farces of British life, and Jacqueline Winspear, who writes the Maisie Dobbs series.
Definitely read Roddy Doyle. A Star Called Henry is great to get a different look at the history. The Commitments is a great one to get a look at Dublin life from 20 years ago. He's written some hilarious kids' books, too, won't get much on Ireland in 'em, but maybe some slang -- my son learned to say "cop on, you eejit" from reading those.
If you interested in English royalty history I would recommend the Sharon Kay Penman books. I read these before going to England and it made the castles etc more enjoyable. Also, I agree Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth and World without End are excellent.
From my personal prep-for-Ireland reading list (mostly non-fiction, but all about Ireland):
"Round Ireland with a Fridge" by Tony Hawke
"McCarthy's Bar" and "Road to McCarthy" by Pete McCarthy.
"An Old Woman's Reflections" by Peig Sayers if you're going to the West Coast near the Blasket Islands.
All those Frank McCourt books
"The Last of the Donkey Pilgrims" by Kevin O’Hara
"The Lost Painting" by Jonathan Harr (about a Caravaggio painting that ended up in Dublin)
"Pint Sized Ireland" by Evan McHugh
And don't forget movies - the visual scenery will get you too - Wind that Shakes the Barley, Quiet Man, The Commitments, Waking Ned Devine, The Secret of Roan Inish.