I started a novel yesterday by fellow Five Star author Barbara Graham, and I have already noticed that she has a gift for turning a phrase. Like others I enjoy reading, Craig Johnson and Laura Lippman for example, once in a while I stop reading to say to myself, "What a great description!"
They're usually brief; today's writing doesn't demand long passages of flowery description. Often it's a simile. Barb used "like a slug under a bucket" to describe a character, and it was exactly right. Someone, I can't remember who, used the phrase "eyes like licked stones" and that one stuck with me as both original and apt. However, part of the gift in these things is fitting them to the genre, the situation, and the character whose POV is dominant at that moment. Sometimes authors have a cool phrase they want to use so badly that they put it in the wrong guy's head or stop the gun battle to notice the sunset, or put in phrases that just doesn't fit with the rest of the piece.
I like it when a phrase that does fit what's going on surprises me, so that I'm just reading a long and it slips into my head. I always wish I could remember all the good ones later, but usually all I recall is that they were there and I like that author better because of them. Yes, a writer needs a great story, intriguing characters, and all that other stuff. But a few perfect phrases can raise the whole thing up a notch.