Continuing with the "my brother recommended" books, I was recently given The Golden Compass and the rest of the series as a "you gotta read this" from my brother. I was also skeptical about the books but after I started The Golden Compass I was quickly impressed by the depth and quality of the story.
The Golden Compass is interesting because the book throws you right into "the action" and you, as the reader, have to start figuring out what's going on. Of course, Philip Pullman is a great author and the book isn't slowed down like another series starter I know of (cough cough Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone). This book (and the series) have been recommended by many and said to become the next great classic after Lord of the Rings - with all the publicity and the upcoming movie, I can see why there's so much appeal here. Anyways, for the amount of plot background that would interest you but not ruin the book, check out the website I link to below.
By the way, aside from strongly recommending the book (I've only read the first so far but I'm sure the next two will be just as good) I also recommend you check out the movie website here. FWIW, the movie comes out very soon on December 7th!