"Northern Lights", the first part of the "His Dark Materials" trilogy. I have had this book recommended to me many times, and I love Pullman's writing, ever since "The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ", but I've only just got down to actually reading it. Pullman creates a strangely alien-yet-familiar universe in which people have daemons, animaliform companions, roughly analogous to a soul - a core part of their being. The book was made into a movie, "The Golden Compass", which although it apparently did OK at the box office, wasn't supposed to have been great.
Anyway, forget the movie - just read the book. It is absolutely fantastic, as Lyra Belacqua (the wild-child heroine) and her daemon Pantalaimon race across an alternative Northern Europe to confront an enormous evil and to uncover the mysteries of Dust. I'm just about to start the sequel, "The Subtle Knife", and am looking forward to it enormously. It's all there - loyalty, intrigue, betrayal, philosophy, religion, heresy. A real gem.
Last year my pals and I cycled in The Galilee, Northern Israel, to raise money for Nazareth Hospital Paediatric Department. We raised over £50,000 but we could use more! Nazareth is the largest Arab town in Israel; the people are lovely, and the kids are awesome. Nazareth also treats kids in the West Bank of Palestine who have very limited access to healthcare. They need your help! Go to my sponsorship page to find out more and see what you can do! Maybe even join us in 2017..?