There are lots of great review on this site Sewing Machine, Embroidery Machinery & Serger Reviews - Reviews for Singer Sewing Machine, Brother Sewing Machine & Viking Sewing Machines at PatternReview.com
I agree about going to a sewing machine store for advice.
I personally like the Husqvarna/Vikings and some larger Joann stores have Husqvarna/Viking Dealers in the store.
I started with a Huskystar 215. They don't make them anymore but they still have similar models.
I want to say it was about $200. It was pretty basic but a great
I like the Husqvarnas/Vikings because if you do decide you need to upgrade within a year they usually give you full trade in price to upgrade.
PLUS , when I got my machine they offer "FREE" classes that you can take as many times as you like within a year of purchase.
With my Huskystar they just offered 1 class.
Since I upgraded to a Scandanavia they have something like 4-5 classes I can take within the next year..everything from basic machine usage to embroidery.