In general: I liked this book much more than OotP, and probably more than GoF. It waxed on a little too long at times, but it wasn't as rambling as I found the previous two books to be. Basically it was just interesting watching how these children, who are so close to becoming adults, make that transition. Some do it with more grace than others ;)
The death surprised me a little bit, and I shed some tears, but I do see that it was necessary for the growth of Harry's character. You can liken it - as I'm sure many have - to Luke losing his Mentor prior to the ultimate battle. It's a sad but crucial stage that the Hero has to go through in order to reach the final stages of his journey; had he not died, Harry would have had too much "backup" when it came down to the inevitable Big Fight.
Is Snape evil? I tend to think he did what he did because he was told too... that Dumbledore had a plan that included Snape doing what he did. Part of me is just in denial that Dumbledore could have been so very wrong about somebody's loyalties, and part of me is just naturally suspicious of what seems to be the "obvious" answer. I do think that the murder was real and permanent, but it was done either to maintain Snape's cover in the Death Eaters (and, after the Vow, to save his life) and that "if you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could ever imagine" applies here.
The look into Tom Riddle Jr's past was... interesting... although it seems to me that it was more about setting up Voldy's eventual downfall in Book 7 than anything else. I'm rereading GoF now, and the opening bit about the old Riddle house and the murders that occured there make a lot more sense now. I think JKR might have also wanted to humanize Voldy a little bit, or at least show the kind of screwed up circumstances he came from, in order to flesh out the character a bit -- the same thing that the Star Wars prequels did (or tried to do) with Darth.
Shippity ship ship! Okay, first off, the folks that are screaming and ranting and being toelike because they didn't get the reinforcement for their prefering pairing, het or slash, are complete asses. I would say the same thing even if Harry/Hermione had shown through, and the Ron/Hermione shippers were acting stupid. Dude. This is JKR's series, these are her characters, her universe, and she can do whatever the hell she wants with them so get over yourselves.
I'll admit that the movies have been, if nothing else, Harry/Hermione friendly. But the books themselves - from GoF, at least - have shown that Ron and Hermione have a certain subconscious awareness of each other as something more than a platonic friend. As they've gotten older, this awareness starts creeping into their conscious minds as well. They're openly jealous of anybody else the other has affection for, and Ron's gropefest with Lavender is obviously a combination of showing up Hermione and proving to Ginny that he can snog with the best of them. Despite their many differences - she's an uptight genius, he's a laid back slacker - they are also similiar in many ways, and one of those ways is their shared stubbornness. Any kind of relationship that they build (assuming that both survive the series 0_o) is going to be a difficult road. But come on. They're cute.
Harry/Ginny... I admit, at the first sign of Harry's jealousy towards Dean my reaction was "woah -- left field much?" But by the end of the book I was quite comfortable with the idea. I don't know that the two are exactly "MFEO" (wow, I haven't used that since my XF days), that it was a meaningful relationship or even has the potential to become so. But we know Ginny's had a crush on Harry from early on, and Harry... well, maybe he got used to that adoration being there, and when he percieved that it was directed at somebody else, he got tweaked? I've seen crit that "Harry only wanted Ginny because he couldn't have her". Yeah, probably. So what? That doesn't make him a bad person... it makes him a teenage boy.
And what about the end? Ginny gets the Mary Jane treatment and accepts it, whereas Hermione and Ron flat out tell Harry that they're not getting left behind. Is this unfair? Is Harry a hypocrit? Did JKR not realize what she was doing? I don't think so. See, Ginny is an entertaining secondary character, but never has she reached the same level as the Big Three. The same rules just don't apply. Harry, Ron and Hermione have simply been through so much together that they have a different class of relationship that Harry and Ginny do at this point. And Ginny knows that.
I think JKR did a smart thing, story-wise, with Harry/Ginny and Ron/Hermione. It creates a balance that would have been disrupted if Harry and Hermione had a thing for each other, or if Ginny had been "promoted" to the same type of status that Harry's two best friends hold.
Whew. That wore me out. Time for lunch!