It was a very good observation. What is the real difference between great and The Best?
Merriam Webster has the dictionary explanation for GREAT: #3: remarkable in magnitude, degree, or effectiveness
Then there is the definition of BEST: better than all others in quality or value, excelling all others
For reviewing purposes, I'll use LASR's explanation of great and best when it comes to books:
5 Stars — Great! You would definitely buy this book. You would definitely recommend it to your friends. You really loved the characters and the plot and would consider looking for this authors back list or making her an autobuy. The writing and editing were superb.
A LASR Best Book - For a book or story that is truly exceptional. You think about it when you're not reading it. You wonder what happens to the characters when you finish. You would absolutely buy everything else this author had to offer. The highest praise - and reserved for only a few.
The first thing I need to remind readers is that a review is an opinion. One person's Best Book is another's Great. There are technical issues that can be rated objectively, like punctuation, spelling/grammar and consistency in tenses, and narrative/telling verses showing. But how a book makes a person feel is purely subjective. That is where things can become a sticky wicket.
Both categories share the buying of the book, recommendations to friends, excellent editing and the consideration of making the author an auto-buy and/or getting all the books on the author's backlist.
For the great rating a reader will connect and be thrilled with the characters. No two ways around it.
For the BEST rating a reader will also connect and be thrilled but that 'liking' takes a step further. There's a certain level that the author's characters have reached inside a reader that a great book simply does not do.
Extreme examples are fans of Sherrilyn Kenyon. Her characters have struck a chord to the point that fans have named their children after them. Readers and fans have had tattoos applied on various parts of their bodies of the symbols that are found in, and related to, the books.
Just stop for a moment and think about that.
The power of one book to, even for just for a moment, make you want to do something tangible to show the world how deeply you were affected. Create fan fiction, do graphic art, anything to live with the characters for that little while longer are all examples of how some people express what a BEST Book can inspire them to do. Even if a reader does none of those things in real life, the feeling that is created after reading such a book is profound.
A GREAT book can make you feel good, but it's fleeting. You write your review, you've spread the word, checked out other books by the author and you continue on. The book is great, yes, but it doesn't turn into a pleasant brain worm on your psyche. It doesn't have the staying power of a Best book.
A BEST book won't be fleeting. Let me give you an example.
Years ago I read and reviewed The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie by Jennifer Ashley. It has to be three years ago since I've read it and I still am affected. Whenever I read one of the later MacKenzie family stories and Ian's in it, I am thrown back to that first book, his story, and how profoundly it affected me. How it continues to affect me. I won't go and tattoo Ian's name on my body anywhere, but I certainly have bought every book in the series. They are on my keeper shelf.
I recently read the MacKenzie family Christmas story Ms. Ashley wrote and lo! Ian was there playing a very significant role in delivering the meaning of Christmas to his family. I fell in love with him all over again. I simply cannot put into words how I feel. The FEELING I get. It's indescribable. I get lost in his eyes whenever he graces me with full on eye contact. If you've read the book, you know how special, how intense that can be.
Another way to explain what a Best Book is like is comparing a movie.
Let's use the 2007 movie, Titanic. Scores of people say it's a great movie. And it probably is. A great movie. The scene with Kate Winslet on the bow of the ship is memorable. But how far does that movie weave its effect on the populace?
Now, think about The Princess Bride. Hey! Don't laugh. Seriously, think about it.
How many quotable lines do you hear repeated? A few days ago I read a paranormal romance where the hero replies to the heroine, "As you wish". The heroine didn't get it because she never saw the movie but the secondary characters did and they snickered and rolled their eyes. And yes, I laughed too. I got the joke. How many people do you know can say, "My name is Inigo Montoya..." How many people do you know that can apply "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." in an every day conversation, and then laugh like a loon. The movie, its quotes and characters follow you.
That is what a Best Book rating is like. A book that follows you. And that is why LASR's criteria adds the line "- and reserved for only a few." There are many books that are great. Completely great. But only a few weave their way into your life, your heart, your vocabulary and your passion. Lord Ian MacKenzie's story was my Best Book.