I hadn't read any of the Harry Potter books before my recent vacation, during which I consumed the first. I enjoyed it. Thoughts:
Take one British Public School.
Subtract caning and buggery.
Add token female.
Add magic stuff.
For a first novel by its author, this is very impressive. The structure is perfect for the intended audience of kids: each chapter is a complete incident, a micro-story in itself with a beginning, middle, and end, that also advances the overall (fairly loose) plot.
Some quibbles: Harry is clearly a wish-fulfillment fantasy creation. I'm sure there are a lot of kids out there who fantasize that beyond their dreary, everyday lives they have a secret identity, they are someone really, really special and important, that their annoying parents aren't really their parents, and that a great destiny awaits them. I wish Harry were a little less perfect. I also wish the Sorting Hat had sorted him into Slytherin, which might be more of a challenge. I find the rather sharp division of Good and Evil in the novel annoying. There's no one in-between. If Slytherin is really as bad as it seems to be, then why does Hogwarts tolerate it? Why isn't it simply dissolved and a new house created? Why are kids with Slytherin characteristics even admitted? Makes no sense, except that the plot needs foils for the protagonists. It also makes no sense that Hermione, who clearly belongs in Ravenclaw, and Neville, who should have been in Hufflepuff, wound up in Griffyndor—but of course not everyone in the house could have have the same personality, or the character interaction would fall flat.
Still, faults and all, I enjoyed the book, and I'll probably be getting the rest of the series.